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Government experts to investigate algorithmic bias in justice system

Some of Britain’s top artificial intelligence experts have been tasked with tackling the potential for bias in algorithms used to make life-changing decisions.

The initiative brings together the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) and the Cabinet Office’s race disparity unit to assess algorithmic discrimination in the justice system. The CDEI’s experts will also probe the risks associated with using algorithms in finance and recruitment.

It comes amid fears that human biases reflected in data are likely to be amplified by algorithms used to make critical decisions. Some police forces, for example, are already using algorithms to inform decisions about whether individuals are eligible for deferred prosecution based on a risk of offending score.

Speaking ahead of the launch of the project on Wednesday, culture secretary Jeremy Wright said the government must make sure technology “is developed in a safe and secure way”.

“Our Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has been set up to help us achieve this aim and keep Britain at the forefront of technological development,” he added. “I’m pleased its team of experts is undertaking an investigation into the potential for bias in algorithmic decision-making in areas including crime, justice and financial services. I look forward to seeing the centre’s future recommendations to help make sure we maximise the benefits of these powerful technologies for society.”

Roger Taylor, chair of CDEI, added: “The Centre is focused on addressing the greatest challenges and opportunities posed by data driven technology.  These are complex issues and we will need to take advantage of the expertise that exists across the UK and beyond. If we get this right, the UK can be the global leader in responsible innovation.

“ We want to work with organisations so they can maximise the benefits of data driven technology and use it to ensure the decisions they make are fair.  As a first step we will be exploring the potential for bias in key sectors where the decisions made by algorithms can have a big impact on people’s lives.”

As well as examining the potential of building biased algorithms in crime and justice, the centre’s experts will also explore how algorithms can be used fairly in recruitment, local government and financial services.