Category Archives: News

Lords report calls for ethical artificial intelligence

Chris Holmes standing in front of presentation screen with House of Lords report 'AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?' behind him.
At launch event for Lords Report into Artificial Intelligence

Chris has been a member of the ad hoc House of Lords Select Committee on AI and on Monday (16th April 2018) the final report and recommendations were published: “AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?” 

Following 9 months of expert witness evidence and extensive consideration the report’s conclusions and recommendations emphasize that the UK is in a strong position to be a world leader in AI but that putting ethics at the heart of development and use is the best way to do this.

AI, handled carefully, could be a great opportunity for the economy. The report makes 74 specific recommendations but one key recommendation is for a cross-sector ethical code for AI, underpinned by 5 principles:

  1. AI should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity.
  2. AI should operate on principles of intelligibility and fairness.
  3. AI should not be used to diminish the data rights or privacy of individuals, families or communities.
  4. All citizens have the right to be educated to enable them to flourish mentally, emotionally and economically alongside AI.
  5. The autonomous power to hurt, destroy, or deceive human beings should never be vested in AI.

GDI Hub launches disability innovation challenge: enable makeathon 2.0

Chris standing at lectern and addressing room full of people.
Chris Chris speaking at the launch of Disability Innovation Challenge in the House of Lords, December 4th 2017

Chris is Chair of the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) a London 2012 legacy project based at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The GDI Hub is partnered with UCL to promote collaboration between government, academics, entrepreneurs, local communities and NGOs to promote accessibility and inclusion and remove barriers faced by disabled people.

Today, (4th December) the day after the UN International Day of Disabled People, the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt, and the new Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton MP, joined GDI Hub at an event in Parliament to launch the Enable Makeathon 2.0.  Teams from around the world will come to London to design new disability innovation products and services. The international, collaborative nature of the Makeathon makes it a unique social movement, events are taking place simultaneously in Bangalore and London. This intensive innovation programme will put ideas into action in just 90 days. Co-creation, expert guidance and collaboration will push ideas through the development, refinement and testing phases. The best will then be incubated and the winners given the opportunity to scale up their ideas. The co-creation camp begins on Wednesday 6th December.

Speaking at the launch Chris noted that “inclusion is the parent of innovation” and thanked the GDI Hub team and everyone for working so hard on this and other initiatives.

Tarun Sarwal, Innovation Advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross said:

“The first Enable Makeathon held in Bengaluru, India last year led to the establishment of some great new products which Red Cross can now test in the field, helping to meet real need in conflict and post conflict situations. This year we are delighted that the GDI Hub team, with Richard Frost, are going to be running Enable Makeathon 2 in London.’

Tech: the opportunity or carpe DLT

We are in the midst of a revolution, an industrial revolution, mark 4, with the potential to make the original one appear a mere murmur by comparison.  And there is plenty of fear abounding, the bots are coming and our jobs are going, what if it all goes wrong?  What if artificial intelligence mean the machines turn on us and Arnie’s Terminator wants so much more than our bike, boots and jacket?

Well, that’s one view and consideration of consequences I would say is always sage.  However, with the right level of caveat and caution I suggest that we can step forward with optimism and evidence based positivity.

In this spirit, today I have the pleasure of publishing a report into the opportunity for citizen and state, business and Whitehall, from what is known as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), one of the technologies that has arrived with the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Entitled, Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public Good_leadership collaboration and innovation, the report seeks to set out key areas across the public sector where DLT could enable increased safety and security, transparency, traceability  and trust, reduce cost and increase service for the citizen.

So what, you may ask (as I did not so long ago), is DLT?

DLTs are typically (but not exclusively) enabled by blockchains. A block is a set of data records, as in a database or spreadsheet, which is cryptographically sealed and linked to the previous block.  The sequence of linked blocks (the blockchain) cannot be altered without breaking the chain.  Consequently, an unbroken blockchain promotes trust and provides extremely strong evidence that the data has not been altered or tampered with.  DLT then provides all parties with the correct rights or permissions and automatically enables all to have a local copy of the register or database.

This means that DLT is good for managing unique identifiers that have to be used consistently across multiple systems and organisations.  It ensures data integrity and avoids data fragmentation, allowing far greater integration of new and existing systems and improved organisational effectiveness.

Having worked with experts in the field, in the preparation of this report, I believe that DLT can play a valuable part in enhancing the delivery of government services to the citizens of the UK, in securing the UK’s competitive position as a global leader in technology-based innovation and in protecting the security of government and citizens’ data at a time when both are increasingly under threat.  Without claiming any silver bullet status for DLT, it would certainly seem worth investigating some more.

So, where and how can DLT help?

Well, for example, if HM passport office could enable a DLT solution, bye bye fake documents, identity tricksters and the like and Hello  to a potential £500M gain for the UK.  As any prophet has to say to the sceptic, “time will tell”, but certainly worth further investigation;

In the NHS, currently an estimated 25,000 days are lost, or spent, on doctor identity and pre-employment checks.  Vital, of course, but if done via DLT, imagine those 25,000 days, currently a cost, being converted into care.

Some more food for thought, with a DLT solution enabling traceability and transparency in the food supply chain, when it comes to horse in the lasagne, we could say with confidence, nay more;

Cybercrime now accounts for 50% of UK crime.  Let’s embark upon our own investigations to establish whether DLT can become our best detective and crime prevention officer.

Just some examples.  The report is in no sense claiming that these examples are the best use cases for DLT but that they (and others) are worth further investigation, experimentation and discovery.

The purpose of this report is pretty simple, to re-energise and refocus UK government attention on DLT’s potential so that we can accelerate our own digital maturity, enhance the productive capacity of our businesses and benefit our citizens.

This report is a call to action for all those with the interests of the UK at heart to join in that collaborative effort and the practical steps proposed so that the benefits of DLT can serve as a common good for UK businesses and citizens.

While the report’s focus is on one technology, or more correctly group of technologies, I am fully aware that others – 5G, Cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics and even Nanotechnology – are all developing as fast and may indeed compete for future time and investment. The report makes the case that DLT has the potential to enable the better exploitation of those technologies, and also as a means of overcoming some of the issues associated with the existence in government as well as in many commercial entities of “legacy” systems developed piecemeal and over time using different software formats and access systems.

I call on Government to seize this moment.  The great news is this is not about money but leadership, collaboration and connection, experimentation, empowerment and, crucially, implementation to enable Britain to be at the forefront and realize all the benefits of the Fourth industrial revolution for us all. Carpe DLT should certainly be part of this.

Chris questions the Government on its response to the fourth industrial revolution

Today (15th November 2017) Chris asked the Government what cross-Whitehall work they are undertaking to maximize opportunities from the fourth industrial revolution; particularly in terms of digital skills, artificial intelligence, machine learning and distributed ledger technology.

The question was intentionally broad and included a range of technologies and priorities as Chris hoped to highlight that the Government must grasp the ‘everythingness’ of this new technology.

As Chris wrote in Politics Home:

“the 4IR is already well underway and it will make the first industrial revolution sound a mild murmur by comparison… There is no separate world of digital. It won’t be possible to focus on, for example, health, education or defence and leave others to “do the digital”. 

Crucially, the 4IR is inevitable, not optional and whilst I welcome the inclusion of digital in DCMS I seek reassurance that the scale of the challenge and the necessity for a cross-governmental approach is understood and acted upon.

The technology may be complex – who really knows what goes on inside the black box at Deep Mind or appreciates the finer details of the cryptograph hash function of Bitcoin. But this is not about the tech per se it is about the potential, the solutions which can be realized and what will be required from Government, from all of us, for such realization to become reality.”

GDI hosts disability innovation summit

The Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub), which Chris chairs, hosted a two day Disability Innovation Summit on 13th and 14th July 2017.

Chris in suit smiling in front of banner saying Global Disability Innovation Hub

The GDI Hub is London’s new global research centre bringing together thought leaders and practitioners, from many disciplines, with knowledge and experience of design and disability. Through collaboration, technology, partnerships and study GDI’s mission is to improve the lives of disabled people worldwide.

Based in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, the GDI Hub is part of the 2012 Paralympic legacy programme. Over two days (13th and 14th July) linked to the World Para Championships, the Disability Innovation Summit, provided an opportunity to bring together disabled and non-disabled experts from around the world to share expertise and ideas to inspire and shape the future of disability innovation.

Technology is shifting the disability landscape. Advances in prosthetics, wheelchairs, wearable tech and bionics are changing the lives of disabled people and the potential is huge. The summit aimed to nurture and encourage those working at the forefront of engineering, computing, robotics, sport and art to come together, share knowledge and push the boundaries of design.

​The summit included keynote speeches, workshops and panel discussions:

  • ​The latest technologies and research
  • Disability dance, fashion and art
  • Global projects and innovations
  • Assistive technology
  • Built environment and inclusive design
  • Sport and community
  • Workplace and employment

Fintech for Financial Inclusion

On Thursday (6th July 2017) Chris tabled a debate in the House of Lords about what role financial technologies (fintech) can play in promoting financial inclusion. Specifically he asked “Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote financial inclusion through the use of innovative financial solutions and new technology, including open access to payment infrastructure, smart phone applications and distributed ledger technology.” During his speech he explained why he was interested in both fintech and inclusion and called on the Government to commit to various actions.

“Why am I interested in fintech? I am interested because it is innovative and disruptive and has the potential to address some of the issues that have dogged our society for decades, not least the inability for SMEs to have consistent and timely lines of credit. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that so many hundreds of thousands, nay, millions, of our fellow citizens have been effectively locked out by being underbanked or unbanked. There has been no real sense that pressure has been put on, or desire felt by, the major financial institutions to lend to SMEs or address questions around the underbanked and unbanked of our society.

Why am I interested in inclusion? This goes right back to the beginning for me. It seems extraordinary that everybody would not be interested in how we enable and empower every single member of our society to play their part and to be fulfilled in whatever field they want. Financial inclusion is critical to this. When we set it alongside digital inclusion, we have two of the most significant building blocks that have to be so well set if we are going to address some of the most significant issues facing citizens in Britain right now.”

Chris went on to ask the Government to look at regulation and funding; by increasing the responsibilities of the Financial Conduct Authority and giving a specific responsibility for financial inclusion. He also asked if the Government would commit to at least equaling the support that the European Investment Bank has given for fintech once we leave the European Union. Chris also highlighted the incredible potential of some initiatives for distributing benefits the Department of Work and Pensions have been looking at. “We have had some great proofs of concept, but we need this to get to scale and then we will truly see the impact and the difference that fintech can make in terms of financial inclusion.” In summing up Chris called on industry and Government to work together to ensure that fintech continues to thrive, continues to deliver and continues to be a great British enabler and a great British export, through and long beyond Brexit.

Read full text here.

Lord Holmes: Inclusive and well funded Fintech sector would be transformational for most vulnerable communities, Politics Home

Chris to chair Global Disability Innovation Hub

The announcement was made at the launch on London Tech Week which the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, opened today (12th June 2017). The Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDI Hub) is London’s new disability innovation research centre, bringing together disabled people, technology, academics, innovators, corporates and the local community to explore disability innovation from a new perspective. The full GDI Hub Board was also announced today. There are fifteen members from three continents and two thirds of the Board are people with disabilities.

Chris said “I am absolutely delighted to Chair the GDI Hub and to be a part of a project with such potential to transform lives. I have personally benefited from assistive technology and believe truly inclusive design not only removes barriers to disabled people but also, essentially, benefits everyone by leading to ground breaking technological solutions or applications and truly excellent design. Technology is neutral but is an incredible tool in the hands of humans and the ways in which we respond to the 4th industrial revolution and the benefits we achieve will be a measure of our civilisation. I’m looking forward to the role the GDI Hub will play in this mission, we have a brilliant team and I relish the challenge before us.”

Also at today’s event, the Mayor officially opened Plexal, Europe’s newest technology innovation destination, forming Europe’s biggest business innovation ecosystem at Here East. Spanning 68,000 square feet, Plexal has been built on the principles of a mini City & will support 800 technology start-ups & global corporations from across the world.

Another former British Paralympic gold medallist, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson joined Chris on stage to launch The Global Disability Innovation Programme, a new accelerator designed to encourage the development of technologies to improve the lives of people living with disabilities.

The programme, which is run in partnership with Plexal and UCL, will bring together disabled and able-bodies experts, users and start-ups with larger companies to accelerate the development of innovative businesses and products around disability.

Entrepreneurs and start-ups on the programme will focus on the development of innovations in areas such as accessible and affordable housing, transportation and how big data and analytics can be used to have a positive impact on the lives of disabled people around the world.

Global Disability Innovation Hub Website

Daily Mail

Evening Standard

Startups

Inclusive design for a better Britain

Chris on stage at ATEC conference.

Chris was delighted to give the keynote speech at tech conference, ATEC London 2017 today (June 6th 2017). He spoke about innovation, technology and the potential for assistive technology to offer solutions for disabled people. He also highlighted that inclusive design was beneficial for everyone, regardless of whether you have a disability or not.

ATEC London 2017 is a one-day event that allows disability professionals involved in the workplace and post-16 education to listen to and meet with assistive technology experts, solution providers and other likeminded delegates.

In his speech, entitled ‘Assistive Technology: a measure of civilization’, Chris shared his personal experience of assistive technology saying:

“From cassette tapes to text to speech software, I could not have enjoyed the education and career I have been lucky enough to have experienced so far without it.

I am genuinely and passionately excited about the potential of assistive technology to remove barriers, unlock opportunities and unleash talent.

Talent is everywhere but opportunity is not and assistive technology offers a way to address that terrible imbalance.

I urge everyone to learn more about what’s out there, ask questions, find solutions and share the good news”

ATEC London 2017, which is sponsored by Barclays, gives delegates the chance to keep up-to-date with emerging assistive technology products, trends and innovations.

Employers are becoming increasingly aware of how assistive technology can promote well-being and inclusion in the workplace, whilst improving performance.

It can enable disabled employees to work effectively and increase productivity, as well as helping to reduce stress by empowering disabled people and removing barriers to work.

We spoke to @LordCHolmes about the future of #AssistiveTech at @ATEConference #ATEConference pic.twitter.com/SQ4i6s3aT9

— Barclays Access (@BarclaysAccess) 6 June 2017

Chris is also working in Parliament to increase awareness among members of the vital role assistive technology can play in improving lives and is Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Assistive Technology.

Chris welcomes Women and Equalities Committee Report

Today (25th April 2017) the House of Commons Select Committee published their report and findings into their enquiry into Disability and the Built Environment including housing and shared space schemes in the public realm. Chris welcomed the report’s recommendations saying:

“I’m grateful that the Committee has recognised the importance of this issue and consulted so widely with stakeholders and disabled people as well as disability groups. The impact on people’s lives when public spaces are not accessible is devastating. Inclusive design must be the golden thread that runs through all new buildings and works in the public realm.

 I’m also delighted that the committee agree with my recommendation that a moratorium on shared space schemes is necessary. Local authorities require clarity in this space and the exclusion of people from their communities and potential waste of public money must end.”

Key recommendations include:

  • Strategic leadership The Government has a range of levers that can be used to achieve more accessible built environments, but is not using them well enough. Greater co-ordination and leadership is needed to make this framework effective, and to make it clear that inclusive design is a statutory requirement, not just a ‘nice to do’.
  • Designing for equality The Government should make it easier for local planning authorities to follow this lead through revision and clarification of national planning policy and guidance. Local plans should not be found sound without evidence that they address access for disabled people in terms of housing, public spaces and the wider built environment; to support this, the Equality and Human Rights Commission should investigate the Planning Inspectorate’s compliance with the Equality Act. Planning consent should only be given where there is evidence that a proposal makes sufficient provision for accessibility.
  • Housing More ambition is needed in the standards the Government sets for the homes that the country desperately needs. Housing standards need to be future-proofed and to produce meaningful choice in housing, not just to respond to immediate local need. The Government should raise the mandatory minimum to Category 2, the equivalent of the former Lifetime Homes standard, and apply it to all new homes – including the conversion of buildings such as warehouses or former mills into homes.
  • Public buildings and places Much more can be done to make the public realm and public buildings more accessible: through building accessible workplaces, and incentivising employers to improve existing ones; by updating the regulations for new buildings and amending the Licensing Act 2003. Greater provision of Changing Places toilets should be a specific priority: such facilities should be required in all large building developments that are open to the public.
  • Shared Spaces Shared spaces schemes are a source of concern to many disabled people across the country, particularly features such as the removal of controlled crossings and kerbs and inconsistency in the design of schemes from place to place. The report recommends that the Government halt the use is such schemes pending the urgent replacement of the 2011 guidance on shared spaces, ensure that the new guidance is developed with the involvement of disabled people – and that it is followed in practice.

Read the full report here.

Read Chris’s comment piece for Transport Network here

Launch of Parliamentary group on Assistive Technology

Chris in front of ornate fireplace with microphone and lectern.
Chris speaking at the launch event in Speakers House

Chris is delighted to be Co-Chair of a new All Party Parliamentary Group on assistive technology.

The group aims to disseminate knowledge, generate debate and facilitate engagement and a greater understanding of assistive technology amongst members of parliament. The group is supported by a number of organizations ranging from academic institutions to manufacturers of assistive technology and disability charities.

On the day of the launch a group of key stakeholders met to discuss aims and objectives. One key issue raised was the unacceptably high disability employment gap (40% of disabled people are unemployed compared to 5% of non-disabled population) and the role assistive technology can play in providing solutions. Questions were also raised over what was perceived as limited dialogue between the industry and government, and departments with government, it is hoped that this group will help address this communication and understanding gap and lead to far greater access to assistive technology for far more people.

The group had invited Hannah Rose to share her experiences of using assistive technology after she was paralyzed from the neck down at the age of fifteen. Thanks to various products including mobility aids, environmental controls (allowing her to turn off the lights and switch TV channel independently) and drag and dictate software (allowing her to use a computer) she enjoys a significant degree of autonomy and loves her job at Cheshire Police HQ – she jokes about how difficult it was to convince officers that she had found a job when she was trying to sign off incapacity benefits.

Access to employment is important but assistive technology is not only about jobs. It is about enabling people in a far broader sense, to live independent and fulfilling lives. It is about finding and making available the tools that allow people to overcome barriers and Chris relishes the challenge of  working with the group to make sure that happens.