The Need for Better Data Governance in an AI World

The power of artificial intelligence in the last few years has grown considerably, due in no small part to the amount of data available to power the algorithms doing clever things.  As data has become bigger however, the need for strong and robust data governance has become more pressing.

A recent paper from the Royal Society highlights the need for better data governance frameworks to better cope with the advances in technology seen in recent times.  The report advocates a new governing body to oversee this framework and to ensure that the public have confidence in the way data is managed in areas such as healthcare.

Data governance

The paper examined the state of data governance in the UK, revealing that data usage, data collection and management are increasingly intertwined.  It went on to say that the current data governance methods leave various gaps, not least in the way that individual and collective risks and benefits are managed.

It went on to make a number of recommendations for improvements that were based around a series of core principles to enable data governance to be fit for a modern, AI driven world.  They advocate that modern data governance should:

  • Protect individual and collective rights and interests
  • Ensure trade-offs affected by data management and data use are made transparently, accountably and inclusively
  • Seek out good practices and learn from success and from failure
  • Enhance existing democratic governance

The need for independence

The paper also strongly recommends the creation of an independent body to oversee data governance as a whole. This would monitor and regulate the usage of data, whilst also managing standards and tackling disputes.

The report proposes that this body be manned by experts from across disciplines to act in the public interest.  It believes that a clear framework can help to define acceptable uses of data, whilst giving stakeholders the confidence that new technologies would work in their best interests.

“We have reached a stage where most aspects of our day-to-day lives generate data that is collected, presenting opportunities for various actors to use this information. Many of the ways in which the data is used lead to positive impacts for us and wider society. However, the rapid rate of change in this area requires a new approach to governance that can keep pace, ensuring that the risks and benefits of new applications can be debated in a transparent and inclusive way,” the authors say.

We're living in an age where data can be collected and utilized in ways never before countenanced, and so it's very pleasing to see the Royal Society affirming repeated calls I've made for independent governance of data, especially in areas as sensitive as healthcare.  We've seen data monopolies rapidly arise in various fields in recent years, and these monopolies conferring great power on those in possession of the data.  There are many fields where such monopolies cannot be allowed to emerge, and independent regulation would go some way to ensuring that the benefits of data liberalization occur, whilst ensuring individuals remain in control of their own data.

“History shows us that societies need to act early to create well-founded responses to rapid technological change. A principle-based approach to data governance can provide direction and stewardship during a potentially disruptive period of transition,” the authors continue.

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