What are we investigating?
Our new project will investigate how big data, algorithms, machine learning, AI and other technologies and systems are increasingly affecting people’s lives. We will focus on how they are being used in government decision-making, what negative outcomes they may have and who is most at risk. We’ll find out who is profiting from data systems, who is accountable for them and what, exactly, the public is not being told about it all.
Why is this important to cover?
The digital revolution and growth of data-driven systems already affect every aspect of our society. In the corporate world, big data and the predictive potential unleashed by complex algorithms are disrupting stock markets, news dissemination, advertising, insurance and electoral integrity. In the public sector, big data has spread across the justice system, policing, housing, access to loans and benefits, service provision, immigration, tax and identity verification. Yet there is a widespread lack of knowledge about the scale and the detail of what data and technologies are being used and how. It makes any meaningful public debate impossible.
Governments and local authorities believe data-driven systems will lower costs and increase efficiency. Others raise concerns that algorithmic decision-making and digital government more generally can systematise biases and harm already marginalised and vulnerable communities. But this debate is being held in expert circles; we believe such sweeping societal change should be widely understood and discussed.
What will the Bureau bring?
An area that affects so many lives but is so little understood needs investigative journalism. Moreover, it needs investigative journalism that can take on very complicated subjects, build expertise, then make them accessible for both a wide and a specialist audience.
By collaborating with a network of experts from academia, the legal profession and civil society, we will ensure that our journalism becomes a useful resource for those already working in the sector, and we’ll share findings and analysis. If you're someone who builds, uses or has been affected by data-driven systems, get in touch.
What do we hope to achieve?
We want to start public debate; to highlight actual and potential impacts of data-driven technologies in the UK and abroad; to expose systemic, corporate or other wrongdoing; and to push for greater transparency around public sector purchases and use of technology services. Our aim is to explore how big data is being used and what accountability there is within government for their use of such systems — and for those findings to inform policy making and discussion as the digital revolution continues.