A project co-led by Professor Rebecca Williams, Professor of Public Law and Criminal Law, along with  Professor Peter Edwards of the University of Aberdeen and Dr Jat Singh of the University of Cambridge has been awarded £1.1 million. The project aims to develop auditing systems akin to ‘black box’ flight recorders for artificial intelligence (AI) systems. 

The award, from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will fund the Realising Accountable Intelligent Systems (RAInS) project, a research collaboration between the three universities.  
Working with the public, the legal profession and technology companies, the project will aim to develop prototype solutions to allow developers to provide secure, tamper-proof records of intelligent systems’ characteristics and behaviours. 
These records can be shared with relevant authorities and further analysed in the event of incidents or complaints, ensuring that future AI systems that are transparent and accountable. 
Professor Edwards, one of the project leaders, said: “AI technologies are being utilised in more and more scenarios including autonomous vehicles, smart home appliances, public services, retail and manufacturing. But what happens when such systems fail, as in the case of recent high-profile accidents involving autonomous vehicles? 
“How can we hold systems and developers to account if they are found to be making biased or unfair decisions?  These are all real and timely challenges, given that AIs will increasingly affect many aspects of everyday life.”
The RAInS project aims to develop solutions that will support auditing of AI systems, ensuring a level of accountability. 
Dr Singh said: “Our work will increase the transparency of AI systems not only after the fact, but also in a manner which allows for early interrogation and audit, which in turn may help prevent or mitigate harm.” 
Professor Williams added: “From a legal perspective the transparency and accountability of these systems is vital and is inherent in any concept we might have of fairness.  The law can only regulate and control what it can see. 
“Ultimately our ambition is to create a means by which the developer of an intelligent system can provide a secure, tamper-proof record of the system's characteristics and behaviours that can be shared - under controlled circumstances - with relevant authorities in the event of an incident or complaint.”

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. For more information visit www.ukri.org.