Friday 20 May 2016


The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, gave a speech yesterday to launch the Data Science Ethical Framework. It got off to a wobbly start:
When Alan Turing proposed the Turing Machine and his theory of machine intelligence, he would not have imagined that his early ideas of computing and algorithms would be enhanced and evolved using the quintillions of bytes of data we generate today.
There's no telling what Alan Turing would or would not have imagined.

The speech wobbled on:
Turing’s work on enigma during the war, working with Bill Tutte who remained less recognised, is a piece of history we are all familiar with.
Was the minister about to tell us more about Bill Tutte?

No. He wanted to talk about artificial intelligence putting humans out of work ...
We’ve heard this before - from the Luddites to Keynes to Harold Wilson, history is littered with those predicting the end of work. And history has proved them wrong every time.
 ... at least briefly he wanted to talk about that, but then he moved on from Harold Wilson to himself:
Across government we are working hard to ensure data and data-science techniques are put to good use; improving data quality and security through canonical registers, integrating data into digital services; and using cutting edge data science techniques to improve government policy and services.
The minister recognised that you may be a bit confused about canonical registers and kindly explained that:
Digital transformation has no meaning or real world effect unless it is the driver for business transformation, of changes in culture.
Soon we were back on familiar territory:
The [Digital Economy] Bill will allow more modern use of data, to improve services or tackle fraud. And it will do this within a strong framework of data protection and protection of personal information ... It is vital we seize the opportunities that data science presents. The biggest risk would be to do nothing and to miss out on the enormous potential to improve the lives of our citizens.
3 November 2015
The Minister for Cabinet Office Matt Hancock spoke about data-driven government at the Open Data Institute (ODI) summit

The digital platforms we’re building, led by the brilliant GDS, will depend on strong data foundations.
We're back to The magic of open data and revolutionising the relationship between the citizen and the state and open data expanding the economy by causing innovation and up-ending the Constitution so that personal information is disclosed by default while somehow respecting our privacy.

The minister was about three-quarters of the way through his speech now, he's said all this before, the benefits of open data remain dubious, the threats to our privacy are substantial and in his peroration the minister tried to reassure us that there is a new data science ethical framework in the offing.

There was just one other matter slipped in before the final canter:
Privacy or cyber security are nothing without reliable verification of identity. So I'm delighted to announce that GOV.UK Verify [RIP] has passed its service assessment and will go live next week ... Verify allows secure and straightforward identity checking without the need for an identity database - and underpins the digital transformation of government ...
GOV.UK Verify (RIP) has passed its service assessment? Janet Hughes is the Programme Director of GOV.UK Verify (RIP). And she's the "lead assessor for Digital by Default Service Standard Assessments". And she's on the executive management committee of the Government Digital Service, GDS, the only begetters of GOV.UK Verify (RIP).

But no time to ask about that and no time to ask how reliable, secure and straightforward GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is because, immediately, the minister was back to:
Technology is constantly changing, new techniques constantly invented. These offer huge opportunities to improve lives, to create jobs, to connect better the citizens and the state. We must be at the forefront of this change, secure yet ambitious, else we will count the cost.
We have asked before which senior figures in government would be prepared to put their name to the declaration that GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is "live". Now we know. Poor Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

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