The Nuffield Foundation has announced the launch of the Ada Lovelace Institute, backed by £5 million in funding, with the aim to 'build a shared understanding of the ethical questions raised by the application of data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.'

Named for Lady Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace, a peer of Charles Babbage generally recognised as the world's first computer programmer for her work on algorithms designed for the Analytical Engine, the Ada Lovelace Institute is an initiative of the independent Nuffield Foundation charitable trust. Backed by £5 million in funding to cover the next five years of operation, the Institute has been founded under three main pillars: To 'convene diverse voices to build a shared understanding of the ethical questions raised by the application of data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence (AI); initiate research and build the evidence base on how these technologies affect society as a whole, and different groups within it; promote and support ethical practices that are deserving of public trust.'

'Technology offers great potential to improve individual and social well-being, for example in early diagnosis of cancer, or improving the lives of people with disabilities. However, this month we have seen the first pedestrian fatality in a self-driving car crash, leading to calls for testing programmes on public roads to be suspended. And revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s alleged use of Facebook data have heightened public concern about how data is used, with serious implications for trust in digital technologies and industry,' claims Dame Colette Bowe, Nuffield Foundation trustee and chair of the Banking Standards Board. 'These examples show that in many cases, public scrutiny of the use of data and automated technologies only occurs when something "goes wrong." Valid questions are being asked about data rights, as well as about consent, public interest and what constitutes an ethical approach. The Ada Lovelace Institute will work with its partners to ensure we have these conversations before a critical incident, with the aim of developing codes of behaviour for the application of innovations of data and AI that are deserving of public trust.'

Those partners, who have been working with the Foundation over the past six months in preparation for today's launch, include the Alan Turing Institute, the Royal Statistical Society, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society, the British Academy, techUK, and Omidyar Network's Governance and Citizen Engagement Initiative.

'Digital ethics is not a substitute for regulation but an essential complement that can support innovation. TechUK believes that by building a world-leading framework for digital governance the UK can be at the forefront of responsible and sustainable digital innovation. As digital technologies become more powerful, the ethical implications of innovation become more significant,' adds Antony Walker, deputy chief executive of techUK. 'The creation of the Ada Lovelace Institute sends a very clear message that the UK is taking a leadership position in moving on from talking about ethics to taking practical action. The Ada Lovelace Institute will build the capability and capacity we need to understand the ethical implications of new technology and provide practical tools to support good decision-making. TechUK believes the Institute provides the right environment for industry, academia and policy makers to come together and develop and operationalise ethical decision-making.'

The Institute will, the Nuffield Foundation has pledged, be fully established before the end of the year, with a chair to be appointed in the coming months.

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October 14 2021 | 15:04