Commons Select Committee inquiry: Algorithms in decision-making

The Commons Science and Technology Committee — which exists to ensure that Government policy and decision-making is based on good scientific and engineering advice and evidence — this week launched an inquiry into the use of algorithms in public and business decision-making. This inquiry indirectly links to the recent Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence inquiry on the implications of artificial intelligence.

In an increasingly digital world, algorithms are being used to make decisions in a growing range of contexts. From decisions about offering mortgages and credit cards to sifting job applications and sentencing criminals, the impact of algorithms is far reaching. Thus, how an algorithm is formulated, its scope for error or correction, the impact it may have on an individual — and their ability to understand or challenge that decision — are increasingly relevant questions.

The focus of the Committee’s inquiry will include:

  • The extent of current and future use of algorithms in decision-making in Government and public bodies, businesses and others, and the corresponding risks and opportunities;
  • Whether ‘good practice’ in algorithmic decision-making can be identified and spread, including in terms of:
    • The scope for algorithmic decision-making to eliminate, introduce or amplify biases or discrimination, and how any such bias can be detected and overcome;
    • Whether and how algorithmic decision-making can be conducted in a ‘transparent’ or ‘accountable’ way, and the scope for decisions made by an algorithm to be fully understood and challenged;
    • The implications of increased transparency in terms of copyright and commercial sensitivity, and protection of an individual’s data;
  • Methods for providing regulatory oversight of algorithmic decision-making, such as the rights described in the EU General Data Protection Regulation 2016.

The Committee would welcome views on the issues above, as well as submissions that illustrate how the issues vary by context through case studies of the use of algorithmic decision-making. The deadline for submitting evidence through the inquiry page is Friday 20 October 2017.

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