Government to ask suppliers to sign up to AI standards

Written by Sam Trendall on 11 February 2020 in News
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New committee report cites importance of procurement

Credit: Pxhere

Government suppliers of artificial intelligence will be required to adhere to standards covering areas such as ethical usage and explainability, PublicTechnology understands.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life this week published a report examining the potential impact of AI on the public sector and the delivery of citizen services.

Among the many bodies that contributed to the report was the Crown Commercial Service and two of the CSPL’s 15 recommendations relate to the role procurement should play in the use of AI and the requried governance models.

The first of these is that: “Government should use its purchasing power in the market to set procurement requirements that ensure that private companies developing AI solutions for the public sector appropriately address public standards. This should be achieved by ensuring provisions for ethical standards are considered early in the procurement process and explicitly written into tenders and contractual arrangements.” 


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The second is that: “The Crown Commercial Service should introduce practical tools as part of its new AI framework that help public bodies, and those delivering services to the public, find AI products and services that meet their ethical requirements.”

The framework in question is a £90m dynamic purchasing system which, when it launches later this year, will allow the public sector to buy AI products and services from accredited suppliers. A prior information notice was published shortly before Christmas, with a contract notice due to go out this summer.

PublicTechnology understands that, as per CSPL’s recommendations, CCS has prepared standards which suppliers will need to adhere to in order to gain a spot on the procurement vehicle. The content of the rules will be rubber-stamped and made public in the coming weeks, but it is understood it will oblige providers to address “things they do not currently have to think about” – likely to cover ethical considerations, and the ability for algorithmic tools to demonstrate how their decisions were reached. 

Speaking at an event to launch the report, committee member Dame Shirley Pearce said that including safeguards during the buying process could help combat some of the biggest potential issues with the use of AI by the public sector.

“There are real risks from data bias,” she said. “We need to turn this on its head – many of these challenges can be addressed in procurement… [by] having these issues upfront in deciding what we will and what we won’t buy. We think CCS is important in providing practical advice as well.”

CSPL chair Lord Jonathan Evans added: “A lot of the AI that is likely to be used will be purchased in the market. Government has significant potential market power, and can ensure that they, not only get the best price, but ensure the best possible standards. Talking to some people in the private sector, they have told us ‘we have never been asked to provide any information on the ethics or explainability’. If we say we want these features, then it is likely to encourage the market to develop those features.”

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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