Friday, 22 Sep 2023

UK government hackathon to search for ways to use AI to cut asylum backlog

UK government hackathon to search for ways to use AI to cut asylum backlog


UK government hackathon to search for ways to use AI to cut asylum backlog

The Home Office plans to use artificial intelligence to reduce the asylum backlog, and is launching a three-day hackathon in the search for quicker ways to process the 138,052 undecided asylum cases.

The government is convening academics, tech experts, civil servants and business people to form 15 multidisciplinary teams tasked with brainstorming solutions to the backlog. Teams will be invited to compete to find the most innovative solutions, and will present their ideas to a panel of judges. The winners are expected to meet the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, in Downing Street for a prize-giving ceremony.

Inspired by Silicon Valley's approach to problem-solving, the hackathon will take place in London and Peterborough in May. One possible method of speeding up the processing of asylum claims, discussed in preliminary talks before the event, involves establishing whether AI can be used to transcribe and analyse the Home Office's huge existing database of thousands of hours of previous asylum interviews, to identify trends.

The sessions will "explore how natural language processing and AI could help to streamline processes used to clear the asylum backlog", officials have promised.

News of the event has triggered unease among immigration lawyers and academics, who have questioned how the use of AI can be compatible with a Home Office commitment to reminding case workers that every asylum claim has a human story behind it; all officials working in asylum processing are currently required to complete "Face Behind the Case" training to reenforce the message that they are dealing with humans and not numbers.

The Home Office's use of artificial intelligence has previously been controversial. The department was forced to scrap the use of an algorithm in making visa decisions in 2020, after campaigners identified a racist bias in the programming.

Some of those invited to attend the hackathon sessions have declined to take part, citing unease about the project or questioning whether they have the correct expertise to assist. Others have said they were "bemused" by the invitation but plan to attend. Those attending are understood to have been invited to sign non-disclosure agreements as a condition of participation.

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