Guest Blog: Peter Wells, ODI - Access to data is key to a competitive AI market'

As part of techUK's AI Week, Peter Wells, Head of Policy at Open Data Institute has provided a blog on 'Access to data is key to creating a competitive AI market'

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are already in use and have been for a while. You can see it in the image recognition software that social media services use to suggest which of your friends are in a picture as well as in cars that can park for you. AI is seeing rapid growth because of a data revolution. The large digital platforms that dominate the internet have access to large volumes of data that places them at an advantage for developing AI. Increasing access to data is key to creating a competitive and equitable AI market where small businesses and innovation can flourish.

Artificial intelligence relies on data

The coming years and decades will see a rapid growth of AI driven services across our societies, partly as a result of a data revolution.

We are going through a data revolution due to the growth of the web and internet coupled with the drop in the price of software and hardware. Data has become a new form of infrastructure for a 21st century economy.

Artificial intelligence relies on access to that data. People use data to train AI services and those services use data to make decisions or find insights when needed.

If you do not have ready access to data, and cannot make a deal with someone who does, then it can be impossible to enter the AI market. This brings with it the risk that this exciting new sector will be dominated by the large digital platforms who currently dominate the internet. This will reduce competition and innovation. It will reduce the diversity of the problems to which AI solutions are applied. It will stifle the energy and fresh ideas that startups and SMEs bring. It will reduce the overall size of the AI market and the benefits that AI could bring to all of us.

Increasing access to data will help create a competitive AI market

We can increase access to data by making it as open as possible while respecting privacy.

Some data can be published openly, for anyone to access, use or share - such as bus timetables or the music catalogue that underpins Spotify. Some personal data needs to be securely shared with researchers for the good of society, for example to produce national statistics that benefit everyone. When other data is provided, this needs to be with a level of control that protects people’s privacy and gives them the ability to decide whether or not they want their data to be shared.

All these levels of sharing may be used to provide data for machine learning. People and organisations who hold data may make different choices about sharing or opening data based on what the AI will do and who controls it. I may be reluctant to share my health record to improve the targetting of adverts but choose to share it with multiple organisations for medical research in the public interest.

In our recent submission to the UK government’s Industrial Strategy both the Open Data Institute and the Digital Catapult asked government to help create a competitive AI market by increasing access to its data and incentivising the private sector to open up access to its data too. Government’s data - whether it’s in the BBC, the NHS or local government - is incredibly valuable and should be used to benefit everyone in society. Private sector data is also incredibly useful and we can create more value by making it flow freely. This should be done while preserving people’s privacy and ensuring that access is equitable.

The message is also an important one for other countries and the private sector to heed. They can decide to open up data and get the benefits of open innovation too.

Artificial intelligence promises to do great things to improve our societies, but we need to increase equity of access to data if we are to create the competitive market that will be necessary to make it work for everyone.

Data is changing the world. The Open Data Institute can help you adapt and thrive

Organisations collect ever increasing amounts of data. To realise its full value, however, that data has to easily flow to those who can make good use of it. At the Open Data Institute we help companies and governments around the world get data to people who need it. Get in touch with us to learn more at

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