The Nuffield Foundation announces new £5 million Ada Lovelace Institute to examine profound ethical and social issues arising from the use of data, algorithms, and artificial intelligence, and to ensure they are harnessed for social well-being

28 March 2018

The new Institute is named after Ada Lovelace, the 19th Century mathematician widely regarded as one of the first computer scientists. The first of its kind in the UK, the Institute will: 

  • 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.

The Institute will act as an independent voice, speaking on behalf of the public interest and society, informing thinking of governments, industry, public bodies and civil society organisations, in the UK and internationally.    

Over the past six months, the Nuffield Foundation has convened a partnership of leading organisations to address the need for agreed ethical frameworks and codes of practice for the use of new technologies, which have developed rapidly over recent years. The contributing partners are 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 & Citizen Engagement Initiative.

Momentum has been building on this issue, from the Royal Statistical Society’s Data Manifesto, to the Science and Technology Committee Report on the Big Data Dilemma in 2016, and most recently the Royal Society and British Academy’s 2017 report, Data management and use: Governance in the 21st Century.

The recent public debate sparked by Cambridge Analytica’s alleged use of Facebook data illustrates the importance of anticipating the ethical questions raised by emerging technologies and their application, which will be a core part of the new Institute’s remit. 

The Ada Lovelace Institute will complement the work of regulators and the government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. The research it funds will provide the intellectual underpinning and longer-term perspective necessary to frame matters of immediate public concern, and anticipate ethical issues. It will offer practical solutions informed by public deliberation. It will explore how to develop ethical thinking within industry to ensure technologies that have the power to shape society go beyond regulatory compliance to consider social impact.

The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust that has long been at the forefront of addressing the ethical questions raised by scientific advancements. In 1991, it established the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which has been influential in establishing ethical frameworks for policy and regulation relating to innovations in biology and medicine.

The Nuffield Foundation has committed £5 million over five years to establish the Ada Lovelace Institute. The Chair of the new Institute will be appointed within the next few months, with the aim of having the Institute fully established before the end of 2018.

Dame Colette Bowe, Trustee of the Nuffield Foundation and Chairman of the Banking Standards Board said: “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.

“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.”

Sir Alan Wilson, Chief Executive of The Alan Turing Institute, said: “As the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, we at The Alan Turing Institute are committed to ensuring that the social and ethical implications of these transformative technologies are fully understood, and that the benefits they accrue can be shared across society. This will require ethical frameworks that keep pace with rapid innovations in the use of data and artificial intelligence, and we are delighted to support the Ada Lovelace Institute in this urgent and important work.  

“A particular privilege of working at The Alan Turing Institute is our ability to honour the life and legacy of Alan Turing through our ground-breaking data science and AI research. Perhaps the most important lesson of this legacy is the impact that technology can have on society. Turing himself was influenced by Ada Lovelace, so it is a fitting tribute that this new Institute will take the name of another historical figure who played such an important role in the development of the technologies we all benefit from today.”

Antony Walker, Deputy Chief Executive of techUK, the UK’s membership association for technology companies said: “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.

“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. techUK looks forward to working closely with the Institute as it gets to work.”

Dr Julie Maxton, Executive Director of the Royal Society, said: “The current framework for governing the management and use of data cannot keep pace with technological advances. A report the Royal Society published last year with the British Academy highlighted the need for careful stewardship to anticipate future challenges, and to ensure that new technologies can be developed in the way that the public want, that exemplifies good practice, and that will allow everyone to benefit. The Ada Lovelace Institute can play an important part in making that happen.”

ENDS

Contact: Fran Bright, fbright@nuffieldfoundation.org on 020 7681 9586 / 07581 216981 

@nuffieldfound

About the Nuffield Foundation

The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust that funds research and student programmes to advance educational opportunity and social well-being across the UK. We want to improve people’s lives, and their ability to participate in society, by understanding the social and economic factors that affect their chances in life. The research we fund aims to improve the design and operation of social policy, particularly in Education, Welfare, and Justice. Our student programmes provide opportunities for individuals, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to develop their skills and confidence in quantitative and scientific methods. We are financially and politically independent, but we often work in partnership with other organisations that share our aims and interests.