How is the Algorithm Charter changing the way the Government operates?
Ahead of the Aotearoa AI Summit on 12 September in Auckland, we asked Stats NZ, Deputy Government Statistician and Deputy Chief Executive, Dr Craig Jones to explain:
In 2020, New Zealand caught the attention of other National Statistics Offices (NSOs) and data advocacy groups internationally by releasing the Algorithm Charter for New Zealand. The Charter was a world-first, cross-government commitment to ensure the safe and transparent use of algorithms.
Algorithms are procedures or formulas used for solving problems or carrying out a task, and can be used to create, among other things, artificial intelligence (AI).
In Government, every day we use data to inform decision-making and deliver services to New Zealanders. Algorithms play an important part in this, allowing us to break down information from large or complex data sets and reveal insights that could not easily be revealed by human analysis alone. Even if we wanted to, we simply don’t have the workforce to do this essential work.
The Algorithm Assessment Report (2018) found the use of algorithms was fundamental to crucial business as usual work, including: tax refunds, ACC claims approvals, facial recognition to process passport applications, surgery prioritisation, and more.
The Charter recognises that while algorithms can, and are, being used as a force for good, their use isn’t entirely risk free. Ultimately, New Zealanders have the right to expect that any government use of algorithms is done safely and ethically, and the Charter seeks to make that goal a reality. As part of the Charter’s development, it was agreed that an independent review be undertaken to understand if it was working as intended, and what further support government agencies needed.
The review has provided many insights, not least being that the Charter, across its 27 signatories, has been influential in changing behaviour.
Agencies have established ethics committees and review boards, created new roles to oversee emerging technologies, and evaluated the potential for risks that may have previously been unforeseen, to name just a few.
Crucially, the review noted a shift among agencies towards greater transparency of their algorithm use, with an increasing number of agencies including pages on their websites outlining how their algorithms are used and providing their algorithmic code on GitHub.
The Ministry of Justice is a great example. Algorithm use in the Ministry of Justice includes a list of operational algorithms, with information about why the algorithm is used, what it is used for, who uses the information, and the assessed risk (based on the Charter’s risk matrix).
In the coming months, Stats NZ will progressively work to provide additional support to implement the Charter in response to the considerations raised in the review. Areas of focus include building capability and capacity among agencies, providing support to implement the commitments to embed a Te Ao Māori perspective in the development and use of algorithms, greater visibility of algorithms across government, and system-wide data governance.
The Government needs to ensure algorithms are right – not only so they work as they’re supposed to, but so New Zealanders can continue to trust in us to use these tools in their best interest..
Interested in solving real problems using AI? Connect, learn and share at New Zealand’s essential AI event, the Aotearoa AI Summit – AI in Action on 12 September in Auckland. Join the conversation and learn more > https://aotearoaai.nz/