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UK publishes roadmap for ‘AI assurance industry’ • The Register

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The UK government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) has published a “roadmap” designed to create an AI assurance industry to support the introduction of automated analysis, decision making, and processes.

The move is one of several government initiatives planned to help shape local development and use of AI – an industry that attracted £2.5bn investment in 2019 – but it raises as many questions as it answers.

Part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), the CDEI said by “verifying that AI systems are effective, trustworthy and compliant, AI assurance services will drive a step-change in adoption, enabling the UK to realise the full potential of AI and develop a competitive edge.”

Launching the move, DCMS minister Chris Philp said: “The roadmap sets out the steps needed to grow a mature, world-class AI assurance industry. AI assurance services will become a key part of the toolkit available to ensure effective, pro-innovation governance of AI.”

How that governance will take shape is, as yet, a bit fuzzy while the industry waits on proposals for AI legislation in the forthcoming White Paper on governance and regulation.

Whatever laws the assurance industry is expected to mitigate against breaching, the idea is that third-party AI assurance providers will offer reliable information about the trustworthiness of AI systems, according to the launch document.

The “roadmap” – awful word, we know – calls for all players in the AI supply chain to “have clearer understanding of AI risks and demand assurance based on their corresponding accountabilities for these risks.”

“AI assurance will be critical to realising the UK government’s ambition to establish the most trusted and pro-innovation system for AI governance in the world, set out in the National AI Strategy,” the document says.

Elsewhere in Whitehall, the Central Digital and Data Office has developed an algorithmic transparency standard for government departments and public-sector bodies. Working with the CDEI, the standard would be piloted by several public-sector organisations and further developed based on feedback, it said.

IT analyst group Forrester has released its own proposals to help businesses navigate something it calls “AI fairness”, a broad concept designed to help organisations travel the dire regulatory, reputational, and revenue impacts of getting AI wrong. “As fairness in AI is a relatively new concept, regulations explicitly dictating a specific fairness metric are lacking and best practices are just emerging,” it said.

Martha Bennett, Forrester veep and principal analyst, said the problem in the UK’s case was that efforts to develop an AI strategy and assurance industry were disjointed by reform to data protection laws, which would govern the use of personal data in developing machine learning models and describe individuals’ rights in their relationship with AI.

Talking about the reforms in August, UK’s then Secretary of State for Digital Oliver Dowden promised “a bold new data regime” following the kingdom’s departure from the EU. It would “unleashes data’s power across the economy and society for the benefit of British citizens and British businesses,” he trilled.

When launching the consultation on the reforms, the government said it was considering removing individuals’ right to challenge decisions made about them by AIs, a move that attracted criticism.

Bennett said: “It’s almost like they haven’t joined the dots somehow. They’re talking in this proposed UK Data Protection revision about amending the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing and I’ve even heard people say that loosening up on those particular requirements could give the UK a competitive advantage.

“But that to me is a dangerous path to take and to me is a real crunch point because it goes in the opposite direction of where everyone else is going in what we call the explainability of AI models. You should always be in a position to defend a decision. If an individual feels that the decision has been unfairly taken, they should be able to get an explanation and it is possible to make AI systems explainable because you know what the inputs are.”

The UK’s National Data Guardian (NDG), who addresses use of health data, also warned against watering down individuals’ rights to challenge decisions made about them by artificial intelligence.

“The NDG has significant concerns about proposed reductions to existing protections and the ability of professionals, patients, and the public to be actively informed about decisions that can have significant impacts for them,” said Dr Nicola Byrne.

Other leading figures in AI ethics argue for a broader view still. Timnit Gebru, co-lead of Google’s Ethical AI team before her controversial departure, said effective AI regulation should start with labour protections and antitrust measures to guard against overly powerful monopolies.

“I can tell that some people find that answer disappointing – perhaps because they expect me to mention regulations specific to the technology itself. While those are important, the number one thing that would safeguard us from unsafe uses of AI is curbing the power of the companies who develop it and increasing the power of those who speak up against the harms of AI and these companies’ practices,” she wrote in The Guardian.

Gebru – now founder and executive director of the Distributed AI Research Institute – also voiced concerns that big tech companies leading the AI charge could also exert undue influence on government policy.

“I noticed that the same big tech leaders who push out people like me are also the leaders who control big philanthropy and the government’s agenda for the future of AI research. If I speak up and antagonize a potential funder, it is not only my job on the line, but the jobs of others at the institute,” she pointed out.

It is notable in this context that the UK government’s AI strategy was launched with a quote from DeepMind, the UK-based AI outfit owned by Google, which ousted Gebru.

Whatever the government means by creating a “roadmap for a mature, world-class AI assurance industry,” questions remain about what exactly organisations and businesses are to assure against. And that’s not very reassuring. ®

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Best podcasts of the week: what does the bloodsucking saga Twilight tell us about society? | Podcasts

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Picks of the week

The Big Hit Show
“Twilight is stupid; if you like it, you’re also stupid.” Why is there so much vitriol towards female Twihards? (Spoiler: misogyny.) In the first run of a series unpicking pop culture’s biggest moments – from the Obamas’ media company – Alex Pappademas starts by dissecting the wildly popular tale of teenage vampire love – and what the reactions to it say about us. Even if you’re not a fan, he raises some great questions. Hollie Richardson

Fake Psychic
Journalist Vicky Baker captivated listeners with Fake Heiress and now she investigates the fascinating story of Lamar Keene, the go-to spiritualist of 1960s America. When he hung up his questionable crystal ball he decided to reveal the tricks of supposed psychics, and Baker asks if that too was a con while pondering the authenticity of the psychics who followed. Hannah Verdier

Deep Cover: Mob Land
Animal lover, lawyer and switcher of identities Bob Cooley is the subject of Jake Halpern’s new season of the reliably mysterious podcast. Cooley was a top Chicago mob lawyer in the 70s and 80s, but what was the price when he offered to switch to the FBI’s side? This dive into corruption quizzes the key figures around him. HV

This lively, engaging podcast attempts to “apply a Jewish lens to life’s toughest questions”. Hosts Rabbi Shira Stutman and one-time West Wing actor Joshua Malina cover topics ranging from reality TV shows to the Jewish “New Year of the Trees”, via the recent hostage stand-off at a synagogue in the Dallas suburb of Colleyville. Alexi Duggins

Backstage Pass with Eric Vetro
Eric Vestro is a vocal coach who’s worked with the likes of John Legend, Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello and Ariana Grande. Here, he entertainingly lifts the curtain on their craft, talking to them about their journey in a manner that feels genuinely intimate given their pre-existing relationships. Expect some enjoyably daft voice exercises too. AD

Royally Flush investigates the monarchy’s relationship with the British slave trade.
Royally Flush investigates the monarchy’s relationship with the British slave trade. Photograph: Chris Radburn/Reuters

Chosen by Danielle Stephens

It’s fair to say that in the last couple of years the British monarchy has been put under a microscope for the way they handle their own family members, whether that be an heir to the throne and his American wife, or a prince embroiled in a civil sex abuse case. In a two parter titled Royally Flush, however, the Broccoli Productions’ Human Resources podcast goes back in time to investigate the royal family’s role in the slave trade in Britain, questioning how influential they were in trying to prevent abolition.

This is clearly a pandemic production as audio quality can sometimes be shaky, but the content is an important listen. As the country gears up to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee, writer and host, Moya Lothian-McLean takes us on an unexplored trip down memory lane, presenting fascinating insights into why – despite ample evidence that the monarchy was historically instrumental in propping up the slave trade in Britain – we haven’t heard so much as a sorry coming from Buckingham Palace, according to the program maker.

Talking points

  • Never underestimate the skill that goes into making a good podcast. Over a year since Meghan and Harry’s audio production company Archewell signed a podcast deal with Spotify, they’ve only managed to release a single podcast. Hence, presumably the job ads Spotify posted this week, looking for full-time staff to help Archewell.

  • Why not try: Smartless | Screenshot

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California’s net neutrality law dodges Big Telecom bullet • The Register

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The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court’s refusal to block California’s net neutrality law (SB 822), affirming that state laws can regulate internet connectivity where federal law has gone silent.

The decision is a blow to the large internet service providers that challenged California’s regulations, which prohibit network practices that discriminate against lawful applications and online activities. SB 822, for example, forbids “zero-rating” programs that exempt favored services from customer data allotments, paid prioritization, and blocking or degrading service.

In 2017, under the leadership of then-chairman Ajit Pai, the US Federal Communications Commission tossed out America’s net neutrality rules, to the delight of the internet service providers that had to comply. Then in 2018, the FCC issued an order that redefined broadband internet services, treating them as “information services” under Title I of the Communications Act instead of more regulated “telecommunications services” under Title II of the Communications Act.

California lawmaker Scott Wiener (D) crafted SB 822 to implement the nixed 2015 Open Internet Order on a state level, in an effort to fill the vacuum left by the FCC’s abdication. SB 822, the “California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018,” was signed into law in September 2018 and promptly challenged.

In October 2018, a group of cable and telecom trade associations sued California to prevent SB 822 from being enforced. In February, 2021, Judge John Mendez of the United States District Court for Eastern California declined to grant the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction to block the law. 

So the trade groups took their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has now rejected their arguments. While federal laws can preempt state laws, the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband services has moved those services outside its authority and opened a gap that state regulators are now free to fill.

“We conclude the district court correctly denied the preliminary injunction,” the appellate ruling [PDF] says. “This is because only the invocation of federal regulatory authority can preempt state regulatory authority.

The FCC no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services

“As the D.C. Circuit held in Mozilla, by classifying broadband internet services as information services, the FCC no longer has the authority to regulate in the same manner that it had when these services were classified as telecommunications services. The agency, therefore, cannot preempt state action, like SB 822, that protects net neutrality.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supported California in an amicus brief, celebrated the decision in a statement emailed to The Register.

“EFF is pleased that the Ninth Circuit has refused to bar enforcement of California’s pioneering net neutrality rules, recognizing a very simple principle: the federal government can’t simultaneously refuse to protect net neutrality and prevent anyone else from filling the gap,” a spokesperson said.

“Californians can breathe a sigh of relief that their state will be able to do its part to ensure fair access to the internet for all, at a time when we most need it.”

There’s still the possibility that the plaintiffs – ACA Connects, CTIA, NCTA and USTelecom – could appeal to the US Supreme Court.

In an emailed statement, the organizations told us, “We’re disappointed and will review our options. Once again, a piecemeal approach to this issue is untenable and Congress should codify national rules for an open Internet once and for all.” ®

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RCSI scientists find potential treatment for secondary breast cancer

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An existing drug called PARP inhibitor can be used to exploit a vulnerability in the way breast cancer cells repair their DNA, preventing spread to the brain.

For a long time, there have been limited treatment options for patients with breast cancer that has spread to the brain, sometimes leaving them with just months to live. But scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) have found a potential treatment using existing drugs.

By tracking the development of tumours from diagnosis to their spread to the brain, a team of researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Beaumont RCSI Cancer Centre found a previously unknown vulnerability in the way the tumours repair their DNA.

An existing kind of drug known as a PARP inhibitor, often used to treat heritable cancers, can prevent cancer cells from repairing their DNA because of this vulnerability, culminating in the cells dying and the patient being rid of the cancer.

Prof Leonie Young, principal investigator of the RCSI study, said that breast cancer research focused on expanding treatment options for patients whose disease has spread to the brain is urgently needed to save the lives of those living with the disease.

“Our study represents an important development in getting one step closer to a potential treatment for patients with this devastating complication of breast cancer,” she said of the study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Deaths caused by breast cancer are often a result of treatment relapses which lead to tumours spreading to other parts of the body, a condition known as secondary or metastatic breast cancer. This kind of cancer is particularly aggressive and lethal when it spreads to the brain.

The study was funded by Breast Cancer Ireland with support from Breast Cancer Now and Science Foundation Ireland.

It was carried out as an international collaboration with the Mayo Clinic and the University of Pittsburgh in the US. Apart from Prof Young, the other RCSI researchers were Dr Nicola Cosgrove, Dr Damir Varešlija and Prof Arnold Hill.

“By uncovering these new vulnerabilities in DNA pathways in brain metastasis, our research opens up the possibility of novel treatment strategies for patients who previously had limited targeted therapy options”, said Dr Varešlija.

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