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Project scope

In September 2015, the Council of the Royal Society approved the terms of reference developed by a Core Group of experts who met over the summer 2015.  

The Core Group involved: 

  • Professor Ottoline Leyser FRS (Chair)
  • Professor Andrew Blake FRS
  • Professor Zoubin Ghahramani FRS
  • Dr Demis Hassabis
  • Dr Hermann Hauser FREng FRS
  • Professor Jennifer Mnookin
  • Dr Michael Osborne
  • Dr Tom Simpson

The proposed project aims are as follows.

  1. To increase awareness of machine learning among UK and EU policymakers, the UK public and industry, demonstrating its potential and highlighting the opportunities and challenges it presents. The project will set out the importance of machine learning as an intellectual discipline, using examples of achievements in speech recognition, image processing and translation.
  2. To raise the level of public debate, through increased public awareness and understanding of the technology, its current uses and near-term applications, and to ensure that public views of the technology inform relevant policy development.
  3. To identify the key scientific and technical challenges, and the core social, ethical and legal issues raised by machine learning and suggest how they can be addressed. In doing this, the project will engage all relevant stakeholders, including the machine learning research community.
  4. To identify how the social and economic opportunities provided by the technology can be developed to deliver wider benefit to the UK, including how the UK can continue to be at the forefront of the development and exploitation of the technology. 

In addition to the activities listed above, the project will also:

  • Explain what is meant by machine learning and summarise the current state of the science. 
  • Explain its specific current and near-future (5 – 10 years from the present) applications and explore their implications for Government policy and society. 
  • Identify and analyse issues that need to be addressed to ensure the societal benefits of the technology are maximised and risks minimised, with a focus on the UK.
  • Make evidence-based recommendations for policymakers, industry and the research community.

Certain aspects have been or are the focus of studies by other bodies and therefore will not be covered in detail by the project. These include robotics and drones, employment issues and the use of the technology in automating decision-making within Government. 

The outcomes of the project will be tailored to the following audiences:

  • UK and EU Policymakers 
  • The UK public 
  • The machine learning community (academia and industry) 
  • Industry outside the ICT sector who could potentially benefit from machine learning