Digital revolution to use the power of data to combat illegal wildlife trade and reduce food waste

Pioneering digital technologies such as artificial intelligence could be used to crack down on global challenges as part of a world-first ‘data trust’ programme to be piloted in the UK.

More than £700,000 will be invested in the initiative to tackle issues such as illegal wildlife poaching and food waste mountains. The funding will help organisations such as WILDLABS Tech Hub and WRAP design the frameworks required to exchange data between organisations in a safe, fair and ethical way.

The aim of the scheme, which will be run by the Open Data Institute and the Government’s Office for Artificial Intelligence, is to exploit the power of data exchange between organisations with the raw data and those with expertise to process it to tackle major global issues.

Exploring the potential of data trusts was a key commitment of the AI Sector Deal, a joint policy by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The Industrial Strategy sets out Grand Challenges to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future, ensuring that the UK takes advantage of major global changes, improving people’s lives and the country’s productivity.

The news comes ahead of a speech in which the Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright will announce a package of measures to spark a wave of innovation in tech for social good.

This includes the government’s partnership with the Social Tech Trust to establish a fund of up to £30 million to provide access to finance and position the UK as a global leader in socially transformative tech. A further £1 million will be available to incentivise organisations to use tech to help tackle loneliness and bring communities together.

Digital Secretary, Jeremy Wright, said:

Technology is already making our lives easier in many ways but there is still so much untapped potential that we can deliver for social good.

As a world-leader in emerging technologies, the UK is best placed to foster these opportunities. The new policies announced today, backed by new funding, will encourage industry to deliver technological innovation to address issues as diverse as animal poaching, food waste and loneliness.

Business Secretary, Greg Clark, said:

From cutting food waste to tacking illegal wildlife crime, our innovators are working to harness the huge potential of data and artificial intelligence to solve international challenges.

Our modern Industrial Strategy identifies our unmatched heritage and strength in AI as a huge opportunity for the UK. We are leading the world in its development and use, benefitting from the highly skilled jobs and economic growth this technology creates.

The Open Data Institute defines data trusts as a legal structure which provides independent, third-party stewardship of data for the benefit of a group of organisations or people.

The new plans include:

A partnership between leading conservation charities , WILDLABS Tech Hub and technology experts to reduce the level of illegal trade of wildlife by sharing image data to assist border control officers around the world in identify illegal animal products from their smartphones.

Audio data could be used to train algorithms to detect gunshots or the underwater sound of illegal fishing vessels coming into protected areas then real-time alerts will be pinged to rangers.

WRAP will be working with food and drink businesses to track and measure food waste to develop solutions which could see savings passed on to consumers, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and water usage.

Royal Borough of Greenwich and Greater London Authority will be looking at how data collected through their Sharing Cities Programme, could help make certain data available in a data trust, including energy consumption data collected by sensors and devices in buildings; data about parking space occupancy and the availability of charging bays for electric vehicles. This third pilot is funded by Innovate UK through the ODI’s R&D programme.

Jeni Tennison, CEO at the Open Data Institute said:

Increasing access to data can help people, communities and organisations make better and more timely decisions – such as which energy supplier to use, the route a bus should take, or whether to invest in creating a new product. But the people and organisations that have data, use it, and are affected by its use need to trust that it is stewarded well and shared equitably and for agreed purposes.

Data trusts are one potential way to increase sharing of data and unlock more social and economic benefits from data while protecting other interests such as people’s privacy, corporate confidentiality or, as in the pilot we’re doing on data about endangered animals, our environment. The ODI is also looking at other approaches to increased access to data, including data sharing models such as those adopted by the European innovation programme Data Pitch, where large organisations share data with startups in order to fuel innovation and answer specific challenges.

The Digital Secretary will also announce new measures to boost tech driven by social purpose during his speech at Doteveryone in London this morning.

This is part of his vision for ‘tech for good’ which will champion technology as a force to change lives for the better, increase engagement between the social and tech sectors and ensure charities understand how they can use technology to achieve their mission.

These include:

A Social Tech Venture Fund, administered by the Social Tech Trust, which will see government support the foundation of a fund of up to £30 million to support innovative solutions to encourage people to be healthier and help them to build connected communities. The Social Tech Venture Fund will increase access to finance and position the UK as a global leader in socially transformative tech;

£1 million to incentivise organisations to develop solutions to tackle loneliness and bring communities together; Government backing for the Digital Agenda Impact Awards to showcase and celebrate tech for good innovations from across business, government and charity organisations;

A collaboration with the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST) and its network of social sector partners to explore how best to support charities to embed digital in their strategy, services and culture;

Naming the organisations to benefit from a share of Government’s £1 million Digital Leadership Fund, which aims to boost charity leaders’ digital knowhow and how they can use technology to benefit their respective causes. Winners will include Age UK, Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and Cornwall Museums Partnership.

Charities are already using digital technologies to support their work. Breast Cancer Care developed the BECCA app, which gives patients information and emotional support after their treatment has completed. More than 15,000 women have used the app in the first year and the creators hope to reach 20,000 more by 2020.

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