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Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand

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Author: Dr. Craig Jones, Deputy Government Statistician and Deputy Chief Executive, Stats NZ.

This week the Minister of Statistics James Shaw, launched the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand. The charter has already been signed by more than 20 government agencies. The Charter signals that these agencies are committed to being consistent, transparent and accountable in their use of algorithms.

Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand

Algorithms - the future

Algorithms are automatic decision-making processes used by computer programmes – to identify patterns in data. As in most countries, algorithms play an increasingly essential role in supporting the services the New Zealand government provides. Algorithms can help deliver new, innovative, and well-targeted policies that make New Zealand a better place to live.

The unconscious biases of humans are well documented, and carefully designed algorithms can help prevent those biases in decision-making. However, if the design is flawed algorithms can perpetuate or even amplify human biases.

Algorithm assessment report

With these kinds of examples in mind, in 2018 the New Zealand government undertook a review of how government agencies use algorithms to improve the lives of New Zealanders. The Algorithm assessment report aimed to ensure New Zealanders are informed about the use of government algorithms and the checks and balances that exist to manage their use.

The Algorithm assessment report

The report drew on the Principles for the safe and effective use of data and analytics developed by the Privacy Commissioner and the Government Chief Data Steward and made recommendations to improve consistent transparency and accountability in government algorithm use.

The Principles for the safe and effective use of data and analytics

The Data Ethics Advisory Group

Along with the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand, and a Data Ethics Advisory Group was established in 2019. At Stats NZ we’re also working with academia to improve education around data ethics – after all most of the people writing code do not come from ethics or philosophy backgrounds.

The Data Ethics Advisory Group

Our commitment

Algorithms are here to stay, and we cannot predict the brilliant and varied ways they may be used in the future. What we can do is build a culture around the use of algorithms and Artificial Intelligence that promotes a focus on ethics and transparency. As a government we can commit to being open and honest about how we are putting new technology into practice. We can share the things we learn with our peers in other agencies, and we can establish processes that ensure human oversight.

As New Zealanders we can make sure we ask the difficult questions of each other and continue to hold our institutions to the highest standards.

The Algorithm charter - Te Reo Māori [PDF 202 KB]

The Algorithm charter - English [PDF 220 KB]

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Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash