Tag Archives: Artificial intelligence

The power behind today’s AI in public services

The power behind today’s AI in public services

Thinking about whether education in England is preparing us for the jobs of the future, means also thinking about how technology will influence it.

Time and again, thinking and discussion about these topics is siloed. At the Turing Institute, the Royal Society, the ADRN and EPSRC, in government departments, discussions on data, or within education practitioner, and public circles — we are all having similar discussions about data and ethics, but with little ownership and no goals for future outcomes. If government doesn’t get it, or have time for it, or policy lacks ethics by design, is it in the public interest for private companies, Google et al., to offer a fait accompli?

There is lots of talking about Machine Learning (ML), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ethics. But what is being done to ensure that real values — respect for rights, human dignity, and autonomy — are built into practice in the public services delivery?

In most recent data policy it is entirely absent. The Digital Economy Act s33 risks enabling, through removal of inter and intra-departmental data protections, an unprecedented expansion of public data transfers, with “untrammelled powers”. Powers without codes of practice, promised over a year ago. That has fall out for the trustworthiness of legislative process, and data practices across public services.

Predictive analytics is growing but poorly understood in the public and public sector.

There is already dependence on computers in aspects of public sector work. Its interactions with others in sensitive situations demands better knowledge of how systems operate and can be wrong. Debt recovery, and social care to take two known examples.

Risk averse, staff appear to choose not to question the outcome of ‘algorithmic decision making’ or do not have the ability to do so. There is reportedly no analysis training for practitioners, to understand the basis or bias of conclusions. This has the potential that instead of making us more informed, decision-making by machine makes us humans less clever.

What does it do to professionals, if they feel therefore less empowered? When is that a good thing if it overrides discriminatory human decisions? How can we tell the difference and balance these risks if we don’t understand or feel able to challenge them?

In education, what is it doing to children whose attainment is profiled, predicted, and acted on to target extra or less focus from school staff, who have no ML training and without informed consent of pupils or parents?

If authorities use data in ways the public do not expect, such as to ID homes of multiple occupancy without informed consent, they will fail the future to deliver uses for good. The ‘public interest’, ‘user need,’ and ethics can come into conflict according to your point of view. The public and data protection law and ethics object to harms from use of data. This type of application has potential to be mind-blowingly invasive and reveal all sorts of other findings.

Widely informed thinking must be made into meaningful public policy for the greatest public good

Our politicians are caught up in the General Election and buried in Brexit.

Meanwhile, the commercial companies taking AI first rights to capitalise on existing commercial advantage could potentially strip public assets, use up our personal data and public trust, and leave the public with little public good. We are already used by global data players, and by machine-based learning companies, without our knowledge or consent. That knowledge can be used to profit business models, that pay little tax into the public purse.

There are valid macro economic arguments about whether private spend and investment are preferable compared with a state’s ability to do the same. But these companies make more than enough to do it all. Does it signal a failure to a commitment to the wider community; not paying just amounts of taxes, is it a red flag to a company’s commitment to public good?

What that public good should look like, depends on who is invited to participate in the room, and not to tick boxes, but to think and to build.

The Royal Society’s Report on AI and Machine Learning published on April 25, showed a working group of 14 participants, including two Google DeepMind representatives, one from Amazon, private equity investors, and academics from cognitive science and genetics backgrounds.

Our #machinelearning working group chair, professor Peter Donnelly FRS, on today’s major #RSMachinelearning report https://t.co/PBYjzlESmB pic.twitter.com/RM9osnvOMX

— The Royal Society (@royalsociety) April 25, 2017

If we are going to form objective policies the inputs that form the basis for them must be informed, but must also be well balanced, and be seen to be balanced. Not as an add on, but be in the same room.

As Natasha Lomas in TechCrunch noted, “Public opinion is understandably a big preoccupation for the report authors — unsurprisingly so, given that a technology that potentially erodes people’s privacy and impacts their jobs risks being drastically unpopular.”

“The report also calls on researchers to consider the wider impact of their work and to receive training in recognising the ethical implications.”

What are those ethical implications? Who decides which matter most? How do we eliminate recognised discriminatory bias? What should data be used for and AI be working on at all? Who is it going to benefit? What questions are we not asking? Why are young people left out of this debate?

Who decides what the public should or should not know?

AI and ML depend on data. Data is often talked about as a panacea to problems of better working together. But data alone does not make people better informed. In the same way that they fail, if they don’t feel it is their job to pick up the fax. A fundamental building block of our future public and private prosperity is understanding data and how we, and the AI, interact. What is data telling us and how do we interpret it, and know it is accurate?

How and where will we start to educate young people about data and ML, if not about their own and use by government and commercial companies?

The whole of Chapter 5 in the report is very good as a starting point for policy makers who have not yet engaged in the area. Privacy while summed up too short in conclusions, is scattered throughout.

Blind spots remain, however.

  • Over willingness to accommodate existing big private players as their expertise leads design, development and a desire to ‘re-write regulation’.
  • Slowness to react to needed regulation in the public sector (caught up in Brexit) while commercial drivers and technology change forge ahead
  • ‘How do we develop technology that benefits everyone’ must not only think UK, but global South, especially in the bias in how AI is being to taught, and broad socio-economic barriers in application
  • Predictive analytics and professional application = unwillingness to question the computer result. In children’s social care this is already having a damaging upturn in the family courts (S31)
  • Data and technology knowledge and ethics training, must be embedded across the public sector, not only post grad students in machine learning.
  • Harms being done to young people today and potential for intense future exploitation, are being ignored by policy makers and some academics. Safeguarding is often only about blocking in case of liability to the provider, stopping children seeing content, or preventing physical exploitation. It ignores exploitation by online platform firms, and app providers and games creators, of a child’s synthesised online life and use. Laws and government departments’ own practices can be deeply flawed.
  • Young people are left out of discussions which, after all, are about their future. [They might have some of the best ideas, we miss at our peril.]

There is no time to waste

Children and young people have the most to lose while their education, skills, jobs market, economy, culture, care, and society goes through a series of gradual but seismic shift in purpose, culture, and acceptance before finding new norms post-Brexit. They will also gain the most if the foundations are right. One of these must be getting age verification right in GDPR, not allowing it to enable a massive data grab of child-parent privacy.

Although the RS Report considers young people in the context of a future workforce who need skills training, they are otherwise left out of this report.

“The next curriculum reform needs to consider the educational needs of young people through the lens of the implications of machine learning and associated technologies for the future of work.”

Yes it does, but it must give young people and the implications of ML broader consideration for their future, than classroom or workplace.

Facebook has targeted vulnerable young people, it is alleged, to facilitate predatory advertising practices. Some argue that emotive computing or MOOCs belong in the classroom. Who decides?

We are not yet talking about the effects of teaching technology to learn, and its effect on public services and interactions with the public. Questions that Sam Smith asked in Shadow of the smart machine: Will machine learning end?

At the end of this Information Age we are at a point when machine learning, AI and biotechnology are potentially life enhancing or could have catastrophic effects, if indeed “AI will cause people ‘more pain than happiness” as described by Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma.

The conflict between commercial profit and public good, what commercial companies say they will do and actually do, and fears and assurances over predicted outcomes is personified in the debate between Demis Hassabis, co-founder of DeepMind Technologies, (a London-based machine learning AI startup), and Elon Musk, discussing the perils of artificial intelligence.

Vanity Fair reported that, Elon Musk began warning about the possibility of A.I. running amok three years ago. It probably hadn’t eased his mind when one of Hassabis’s partners in DeepMind, Shane Legg, stated flatly, “I think human extinction will probably occur, and technology will likely play a part in this.””

Musk was of the opinion that A.I. was probably humanity’s “biggest existential threat.”

We are not yet joining up multi disciplinary and cross sector discussions of threats and opportunities

Jobs, shift in needed skill sets for education, how we think, interact, value each other, accept or reject ownership and power models; and later, from the technology itself. We are not yet talking conversely, the opportunities that the seismic shifts offer in real terms. Or how and why to accept or reject or regulate them.

Where private companies are taking over personal data given in trust to public services, it is reckless for the future of public interest research to assume there is no public objection. How can we object, if not asked? How can children make an informed choice? How will public interest be assured to be put ahead of private profit? If it is intended on balance to be all about altruism from these global giants, then they must be open and accountable.

Private companies are shaping how and where we find machine learning and AI gathering data about our behaviours in our homes and public spaces.

SPACE10, an innovation hub for IKEA is currently running a survey on how the public perceives and “wants their AI to look, be, and act”, with an eye on building AI into their products, for us to bring flat-pack into our houses.

As the surveillance technology built into the Things in our homes attached to the Internet becomes more integral to daily life, authorities are now using it to gather evidence in investigations; from mobile phones, laptops, social media, smart speakers, and games. The IoT so far seems less about the benefits of collaboration, and all about the behavioural data it collects and uses to target us to sell us more things. Our behaviours tell much more than how we act. They show how we think inside the private space of our minds.

Do you want Google to know how you think and have control over that? The companies of the world that have access to massive amounts of data, and are using that data to now teach AI how to ‘think’. What is AI learning? And how much should the State see or know about how you think, or try to predict it?

Who cares, wins?

It is not overstated to say society and future public good of public services, depends on getting any co-dependencies right. As I wrote in the time of care.data, the economic value of data, personal rights and the public interest are not opposed to one another, but have synergies and co-dependency. One player getting it wrong, can create harm for all. Government must start to care about this, beyond the side effects of saving political embarrassment.

Without joining up all aspects, we cannot limit harms and make the most of benefits. There is nuance and unknowns. There is opaque decision making and secrecy, packaged in the wording of commercial sensitivity and behind it, people who can be brilliant but at the end of the day, are also, human, with all our strengths and weaknesses.

And we can get this right, if data practices get better, with joined up efforts.

Our future society, as our present, is based on webs of trust, on our social networks on- and offline, that enable business, our education, our cultural, and our interactions. Children must trust they will not be used by systems. We must build trustworthy systems that enable future digital integrity.

The immediate harm that comes from blind trust in AI companies is not their AI, but the hidden powers that commercial companies have to nudge public and policy maker behaviours and acceptance, towards private gain. Their ability and opportunity to influence regulation and future direction outweighs most others. But lack of transparency about their profit motives is concerning. Carefully staged public engagement is not real engagement but a fig leaf to show ‘the public say yes’.

The unwillingness by Google DeepMind, when asked at their public engagement event, to discuss their past use of NHS patient data, or the profit model plan or their terms of NHS deals with London hospitals, should be a warning that these questions need answers and accountability urgently.

As TechCrunch suggested after the event, this is all “pretty standard playbook for tech firms seeking to workaround business barriers created by regulation.” Calls for more data, might mean an ever greater power shift.

Companies that have already extracted and benefited from personal data in the public sector, have already made private profit. They and their machines have learned for their future business product development.

A transparent accountable future for all players, private and public, using public data is a necessary requirement for both the public good and private profit. It is not acceptable for departments to hide their practices, just as it is unacceptable if firms refuse algorithmic transparency.

Rebooting antitrust for the information age will not be easy. It will entail new risks: more data sharing, for instance, could threaten privacy. But if governments don’t want a data economy dominated by a few giants, they will need to act soon.” [The Economist, May 6]

If the State creates a single data source of truth, or private Giant tech thinks it can side-step regulation and gets it wrong, their practices screw up public trust. It harms public interest research, and with it our future public good.

But will they care?

If we care, then across public and private sectors, we must cherish shared values and better collaboration. Embed ethical human values into development, design and policy. Ensure transparency of where, how, who and why my personal data has gone.

We must ensure that as the future becomes “smarter”, we educate ourselves and our children to stay intelligent about how we use data and AI.

We must start today, knowing how we are used by both machines, and man.


First published on Medium for a change.

Mum, are we there yet? Why should AI care.

Mike Loukides drew similarities between the current status of AI and children’s learning in an article I read this week.

The children I know are always curious to know where they are going, how long will it take, and how they will know when they get there. They ask others for guidance often.

Loukides wrote that if you look carefully at how humans learn, you see surprisingly little unsupervised learning.

If unsupervised learning is a prerequisite for general intelligence, but not the substance, what should we be looking for, he asked. It made me wonder is it also true that general intelligence is a prerequisite for unsupervised learning? And if so, what level of learning must AI achieve before it is capable of recursive self-improvement? What is AI being encouraged to look for as it learns, what is it learning as it looks?

What is AI looking for and how will it know when it gets there?

Loukides says he can imagine a toddler learning some rudiments of counting and addition on his or her own, but can’t imagine a child developing any sort of higher mathematics without a teacher.

I suggest a different starting point. I think children develop on their own, given a foundation. And if the foundation is accompanied by a purpose — to understand why they should learn to count, and why they should want to — and if they have the inspiration, incentive and  assets they’ll soon go off on their own, and outstrip your level of knowledge. That may or may not be with a teacher depending on what is available, cost, and how far they get compared with what they want to achieve.

It’s hard to learn something from scratch by yourself if you have no boundaries to set knowledge within and search for more, or to know when to stop when you have found it.

You’ve only to start an online course, get stuck, and try to find the solution through a search engine to know how hard it can be to find the answer if you don’t know what you’re looking for. You can’t type in search terms if you don’t know the right words to describe the problem.

I described this recently to a fellow codebar-goer, more experienced than me, and she pointed out something much better to me. Don’t search for the solution or describe what you’re trying to do, ask the search engine to find others with the same error message.

In effect she said, your search is wrong. Google knows the answer, but can’t tell you what you want to know, if you don’t ask it in the way it expects.

So what will AI expect from people and will it care if we dont know how to interrelate? How does AI best serve humankind and defined by whose point-of-view? Will AI serve only those who think most closely in AI style steps and language?  How will it serve those who don’t know how to talk about, or with it? AI won’t care if we don’t.

If as Loukides says, we humans are good at learning something and then applying that knowledge in a completely different area, it’s worth us thinking about how we are transferring our knowledge today to AI and how it learns from that. Not only what does AI learn in content and context, but what does it learn about learning?

His comparison of a toddler learning from parents — who in effect are ‘tagging’ objects through repetition of words while looking at images in a picture book — made me wonder how we will teach AI the benefit of learning? What incentive will it have to progress?

“the biggest project facing AI isn’t making the learning process faster and more efficient. It’s moving from machines that solve one problem very well (such as playing Go or generating imitation Rembrandts) to machines that are flexible and can solve many unrelated problems well, even problems they’ve never seen before.”

Is the skill to enable “transfer learning” what will matter most?

For AI to become truly useful, we need better as a global society to understand *where* it might best interface with our daily lives, and most importantly *why*.  And consider *who* is teaching and AI and who is being left out in the crowdsourcing of AI’s teaching.

Who is teaching AI what it needs to know?

The natural user interfaces for people to interact with today’s more common virtual assistants (Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Viv, Microsoft  and Cortana) are not just providing information to the user, but through its use, those systems are learning. I wonder what percentage of today’s  population is using these assistants, how representative are they, and what our AI assistants are being taught through their use? Tay was a swift lesson learned for Microsoft.

In helping shape what AI learns, what range of language it will use to develop its reference words and knowledge, society co-shapes what AI’s purpose will be —  and for AI providers to know what’s the point of selling it. So will this technology serve everyone?

Are providers counter-balancing what AI is currently learning from crowdsourcing, if the crowd is not representative of society?

So far we can only teach machines to make decisions based on what we already know, and what we can tell it to decide quickly against pre-known references using lots of data. Will your next image captcha, teach AI to separate the sloth from the pain-au-chocolat?

One of the task items for machine processing is better searches. Measurable goal driven tasks have boundaries, but who sets them? When does a computer know, if it’s found enough to make a decision. If the balance of material about the Holocaust on the web for example, were written by Holocaust deniers will AI know who is right? How will AI know what is trusted and by whose measure?

What will matter most is surely not going to be how to optimise knowledge transfer from human to AI — that is the baseline knowledge of supervised learning — and it won’t even be for AI to know when to use its skill set in one place and when to apply it elsewhere in a different context; so-called learning transfer, as Mike Loukides says. But rather, will AI reach the point where it cares?

  • Will AI ever care what it should know and where to stop or when it knows enough on any given subject?
  • How will it know or care if what it learns is true?
  • If in the best interests of advancing technology or through inaction  we do not limit its boundaries, what oversight is there of its implications?

Online limits will limit what we can reach in Thinking and Learning

If you look carefully at how humans learn online, I think rather than seeing  surprisingly little unsupervised learning, you see a lot of unsupervised questioning. It is often in the questioning that is done in private we discover, and through discovery we learn. Often valuable discoveries are made; whether in science, in maths, or important truths are found where there is a need to challenge the status quo. Imagine if Galileo had given up.

The freedom to think freely and to challenge authority, is vital to protect, and one reason why I and others are concerned about the compulsory web monitoring starting on September 5th in all schools in England, and its potential chilling effect. Some are concerned who  might have access to these monitoring results today or in future, if stored could they be opened to employers or academic institutions?

If you tell children do not use these search terms and do not be curious about *this* subject without repercussions, it is censorship. I find the idea bad enough for children, but for us as adults its scary.

As Frankie Boyle wrote last November, we need to consider what our internet history is:

“The legislation seems to view it as a list of actions, but it’s not. It’s a document that shows what we’re thinking about.”

Children think and act in ways that they may not as an adult. People also think and act differently in private and in public. It’s concerning that our private online activity will become visible to the State in the IP Bill — whether photographs that captured momentary actions in social media platforms without the possibility to erase them, or trails of transitive thinking via our web history — and third-parties may make covert judgements and conclusions about us, correctly or not, behind the scenes without transparency, oversight or recourse.

Children worry about lack of recourse and repercussions. So do I. Things done in passing, can take on a permanence they never had before and were never intended. If expert providers of the tech world such as Apple Inc, Facebook Inc, Google Inc, Microsoft Corp, Twitter Inc and Yahoo Inc are calling for change, why is the government not listening? This is more than very concerning, it will have disastrous implications for trust in the State, data use by others, self-censorship, and fear that it will lead to outright censorship of adults online too.

By narrowing our parameters what will we not discover? Not debate?  Or not invent? Happy are the clockmakers, and kids who create. Any restriction on freedom to access information, to challenge and question will restrict children’s learning or even their wanting to.  It will limit how we can improve our shared knowledge and improve our society as a result. The same is true of adults.

So in teaching AI how to learn, I wonder how the limitations that humans put on its scope — otherwise how would it learn what the developers want — combined with showing it ‘our thinking’ through search terms,  and how limitations on that if users self-censor due to surveillance, will shape what AI will help us with in future and will it be the things that could help the most people, the poorest people, or will it be people like those who programme the AI and use search terms and languages it already understands?

Who is accountable for the scope of what we allow AI to do or not? Who is accountable for what AI learns about us, from our behaviour data if it is used without our knowledge?

How far does AI have to go?

The leap for AI will be if and when AI can determine what it doesn’t know, and it sees a need to fill that gap. To do that, AI will need to discover a purpose for its own learning, indeed for its own being, and be able to do so without limitation from the that humans shaped its framework for doing so. How will AI know what it needs to know and why? How will it know, what it knows is right and sources to trust? Against what boundaries will AI decide what it should engage with in its learning, who from and why? Will it care? Why will it care? Will it find meaning in its reason for being? Why am I here?

We assume AI will know better. We need to care, if AI is going to.

How far are we away from a machine that is capable of recursive self-improvement, asks John Naughton in yesterday’s Guardian, referencing work by Yuval Harari suggesting artificial intelligence and genetic enhancements will usher in a world of inequality and powerful elites. As I was finishing this, I read his article, and found myself nodding, as I read the implications of new technology focus too much on technology and too little on society’s role in shaping it.

AI at the moment has a very broad meaning to the general public. Is it living with life-supporting humanoids?  Do we consider assistive search tools as AI? There is a fairly general understanding of “What is A.I., really?” Some wonder if we are “probably one of the last generations of Homo sapiens,” as we know it.

If the purpose of AI is to improve human lives, who defines improvement and who will that improvement serve? Is there a consensus on the direction AI should and should not take, and how far it should go? What will the global language be to speak AI?

As AI learning progresses, every time AI turns to ask its creators, “Are we there yet?”,  how will we know what to say?

image: Stephen Barling flickr.com/photos/cripsyduck (CC BY-NC 2.0)