• Artificial Intelligence can improve lives, but to avoid issues such as accuracy, human control, transparency, bias and privacy challenges, its use needs to be carefully and ethically managed.
  • One way to do this is to set up a national “Centre for Excellence” to champion the ethical use of AI and help roll out training and awareness raising.
  • A number of countries already have centres of excellence – those which don’t, should.

AI can be used to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of decision-making and to improve lives through new apps and services. It can be used to solve some of the thorny policy problems of climate change, infrastructure and healthcare. It is no surprise that governments are therefore looking at ways to build AI expertise and understanding, both within the public sector but also within the wider community.

To unleash the potential of AI safely, however, issues such as accuracy, human control, transparency, bias and privacy need to be addressed. So governments should be role-modelling the ethical use of AI, and educating their people on AI and how to be ready for the opportunities and challenges.

One way countries could do this would be through setting up a body that is a visible focus for AI: a centre of excellence. Our project recommends this as a way to increase ethical AI use in a country and build public support for it across the economy and society.

3 reasons to have a centre of excellence for AI

1. The centre could draw staff from industry, government, academia and civil society, using a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to provide advice on AI and algorithm use for government operations.

2. It would provide a means for governments to start to tackle the lack of knowledge about AI in all communities. The centre would start to raise awareness on AI itself and encourage conversations about people’s level of comfort with using it in different situations.

3. The centre will also provide current users of AI with a place to share concerns and problems, and talk with a group of experts and peers.

What would a centre of excellence do?

The centre would be supportive and educational and able to shape the ethical development of AI practices. To achieve this, it could include the following functions:

  • Gather information and intelligence on international AI use and provide advice and support based on this intelligence-gathering (for example, to the government, private sector, individual organizations, civil society, designers of AI, procurers of AI etc)
  • Work with individual agencies and ministries to assist in the development and procurement of algorithmsProvide error-reporting (for example, to commercial products to help with product safety)
  • Act in an ombudsman-type role to transparently highlight problems in the use of algorithms and AI or identify risks and solutions
  • Develop regulatory sandboxes and provide support for users
  • Act as a hub for pooling expertise on the development and use of AI solutions
  • Seek citizen-centered solutions, through the use of human-centered design approaches and skills and develop principles and principle-based approaches that reflect the diversity of communities, including indigenous views
  • Work with industry and government to develop tangible and real practices that meet developers’ needs and legal requirements
  • Continuous identification and iteration of best practices that can be scaled across government and the private sector
Image: Statista

Examples of countries already developing AI tools and frameworks

There are some great examples from a number of governments that offer lessons, both in terms of setting up bodies that are acting as centres of excellence, but also in developing key functions or tools that will support a centre of excellence.

The UK is a pioneer in this area with the Office for AI, which was set up to drive responsible and innovative uptake of AI technologies for the benefit of everyone in the country. This involves making sure AI is safe through good governance, strong ethical foundations and understanding of key issues such as the future of work; supporting the adoption of AI across all sectors; and making sure foundational building blocks such as skills, data, investment and leadership are in place.

AI Singapore is bringing together all Singapore-based research institutions and the AI ecosystem start-ups and companies to “catalyse, synergise and boost” Singapore’s capability to power its digital economy. Its objective is to use AI to address major challenges currently affecting society and industry.

India too has launched a Centre of Excellence in AI to improve the delivery of AI government e-services. The Centre will be a platform for innovation and act as a gateway to test and develop solutions and build capacity across government departments.

Canada, the first country in the world to develop a National AI Strategy, set up centres of excellence in AI research and innovation in three of its universities in 2018. This investment in academics and researchers has built on Canada’s reputation as a leading AI research hub.

Malta has established the Malta Digital Innovation Authority, which is a regulatory authority responsible for governmental policies aimed at positioning Malta as a centre of excellence and innovation in digital technologies. It sets and enforces standards and puts in place protections for users.

Examples of countries exploring ethics

Data ethics has been a rich area for many countries. Denmark’s Danish Expert group on Data Ethics provided a number of recommendations to government on ensuring core values underpin the use of data; while the UK has also established a Centre for Data Ethics & Innovation, to connect policy-makers, industry, civil society and the public to make sure the United Kingdom develops the right governance regime for data-driven technologies.

The beauty of a centre of excellence is that it is a flexible and agile tool that can be adjusted according to the needs and demands of the time and place. There are many examples to look at and draw from to develop a body that best reflects its environment and values - we are standing on the shoulders of giants!