The BCS Policy and Press team had their finger on the pulse during autumn and the beginning of the year commenting on top technology stories ranging from the Post Office scandal to the AI Summit. Claire Penketh reports.

The Post Office scandal dominated the headlines after the ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, showed the tragic human stories behind one of the UK’s most serious miscarriages of justice.

BCS reiterated its position, calling for a change in the law so evidence from computer systems is not always presumed to be correct.

The BBC interviewed Dr Sam De Silva, Chair of the BCS Law Specialist Group, who told Newsnight: “The current position in law is that everything that is generated by computer is reliable and can be admissible unless you can prove otherwise. We want to change that presumption so that the prosecution has to prove that the computer is operating reliably.”

Sam De Silva speaking on Newsnight
Sam De Silva speaking on Newsnight

Sam was also interviewed by the Nikkei newspaper – a global financial outlet with almost two million readers.

Our press release also received coverage in the legal and tech press including Forbes and The Legal Gazette.

Members input

Earlier in January, the BCS Policy and PR team developed a strong relationship with one of our prominent Fellows, the new Mayor of the City of London Corporation, Michael Mainelli.

In our press release stressing the need for ethical practice in the finance sector he said: “The AI genie is out of the bottle and we need to control it appropriately. AI has tremendous potential to make our financial system work in ways that are fairer, more accessible, and more transparent than ever before.

“Yet there are genuine risks such as inappropriate use of intellectual property, security failures, misuse of personal data, ingrained bias, and dehumanisation.” His comments came as BCS’ launched its Foundation Certificate in the Ethical Build of AI.

In December BCS responded to a government consultation on the cyber resilience of the UK’s critical national infrastructure. We asked the BCS Information Security Specialist Group for its input into the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee’s call for a written response. The group felt there should be a strong focus on areas where cyber threats affected citizens and society most directly, such, health and care.

Awards and celebrations

BCS Fellow Paul Martynenko was given an MBE in the King’s New Year’s Honours. In a BCS summary of his achievements, Paul said: “It is a great honour to receive an MBE. The award is the result of the work of a great many people, and it’s as much a team effort as it is an individual effort.”

Also in December, Google’s Deep Mind’s Demis Hassabis CBE was awarded the BCS Lovelace Medal, along with computer scientist Professor Jane Hillston MBE, and leading digital policy expert and BCS Fellow Professor Tom Crick MBE. In November, Tom also began his new role as the Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Professor Ruth Misener was awarded the BCS Roger Needham Award for her exceptional contributions to computer science. Professor Misener works for the Department of Computing, Imperial College London. Her research concentrates on the development of software and optimisation algorithms for energy efficient engineering and biomedical systems.

Broader digital skills in the school curriculum

As the general election looms, BCS is lobbying political parties in England to adopt two key changes to the curriculum in their manifestos - the introduction of an applied computing GCSE and an equivalent broader digital literacy qualification. This follows a cross party House of Lords Education Committee report: ‘Requires Improvement: urgent change for 11-16 education’ which backed our recommendations.

BCS also wants to see AI become integral to teacher training and to be taught in the classroom. The story was covered by Sky News and the Times Educational Supplement, amongst others. The Department for Education also released its policy document on the importance of AI in schools, containing many of the themes BCS advocates.

Dinner at the House of Lords

In November, BCS was the co-sponsor with Google for the Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum (PICTFOR) Annual Dinner at the House of Lords. The event brought together 100 parliamentarians, senior industry representatives and the third sector to celebrate the continued collaboration between Parliament and the tech industry.

Julia Adamson MBE, BCS MD of Education and Public Benefit
Julia Adamson MBE, BCS MD of Education and Public Benefit

In her keynote speech, Julia Adamson, MBE, MD of Education and Public Benefit at BCS, said: “Political decisions about emerging technologies, like AI, are critical for our children’s future, transcending election cycles. The responsibility lies heavily on policymakers to define the life chances of the next generation. My challenge to the next government is to prioritise expert teachers in computing education and digital skills reform, focusing on research and insight-led policies over ideology.”

BCS Diversity Report 2023

The theme of inclusivity continued with the release of the annual BCS Diversity report and a press release focused on women in tech. Analysis of ONS figures showed that if current trends continue, it’ll take almost 300 years for the number of women in the sector to achieve parity with men. We worked closely with the BCSWomen group, who were extensively quoted in the press release. It was picked up by several publications including IT Pro, Computing, and The Register, which generated a lively discussion in the comments section.

AI Summit

With the AI summit at Bletchley Park in early November, BCS was in demand as various news outlets, such as the BBC, covered our reaction to PM Rishi Sunak’s AI regulation plans.

Our CEO, Rashik Parmar, said: “AI won’t grow up like the Terminator. If we take the proper steps, it will be a trusted co-pilot from our earliest school days to our retirement.” Other outlets, such as the Daily Mail and Computing, also reported on BCS’ views.

For you

Be part of something bigger, join BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.

Rashik attended a dinner before the summit, hosted by the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology of the United Kingdom, Michelle Donelan, and a pre-summit business roundtable with the then Tech & Data Governance Minister, Paul Scully.

We were also quoted in a government press release just before the summit as leading tech firms outlined their AI safety policies.

Julia Adamson, MD for Education and Public Benefit MBE, worked on a report with finalists of the BBC Young Reporters scheme, which looked at the use of AI in school. Julia appeared on BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio London and in a BBC Online article.

All of this shows that the media and the government are listening closely to what BCS has to say.

Main photo: Markus Winkler - Unsplash