the guardian is implicated up to its nazi arse in this thicket of ‘artificial intelligence’ vote-rigging

The Scott Trust, the ultimate owner of the Guardian, is the sole investor in Guardian Media Group (GMG) Ventures, which is a minority shareholder in Faculty. Why? – RB

Dominic Cummings firm paid Vote Leave’s AI firm £260k
David Pegg, Rob Evans, Paul Lewis, Groan, Jul 12 2020

A private company owned and controlled by Dominic Cummings paid more than a quarter of a million pounds to the artificial intelligence firm that worked on the Vote Leave campaign. The prime minister’s chief adviser is declining to explain the reason for the payments to Faculty, which were made in instalments over two years. Faculty also declined to say what they were for. But the payments are likely to raise further questions about the relationship between Cummings and the data analytics firm he hired in 2016 to conduct data modelling around the EU referendum for Vote Leave. Earlier this year, Faculty was installed at the heart of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, conducting data modelling to help senior decision-makers and other government officials respond to the pandemic. The Guardian has identified at least 13 central government contracts awarded to the firm since early 2018, collectively worth about £3m in revenue. The company said it had worked on more than 30 projects with public bodies since 2016. Lawyers for Faculty said it rejected any suggestion it received preferential treatment from the prime minister’s chief adviser, and that any work with the government had been won fairly and properly. However, they declined to say why Faculty received payments from Dynamic Maps, Cummings’ private consultancy firm.

A Faculty company document seen by the Guardian indicates Faculty received almost £260k from Dynamic Maps across 2018 and 2019. Dynamic Maps is listed on the document as a “customer.” Cummings set up Dynamic Maps in Oct 2017 as sole director to provide “information technology consultancy activities”, according to Companies House records. He began the process of winding up the company last month. Little is known about his firm, which as a small company has only ever been required to publish limited accounts. However, Cummings was previously reported to have used the company for private consultancy work before re-entering government as Boris Johnson’s chief adviser when he became prime minister. The only other business relationship Cummings’ consultancy is known to have had is with Babylon Health, a health-care startup backed by the health secretary, Matt Hancock. Cummings advised the company on its communications strategy and its senior recruitment, and was paid via Dynamic Maps.

Faculty was founded in 2014 as a fellowship and mentoring startup called ASI Data Science. ASI would put physics and maths PhD graduates from top universities through a two-month data science training programme, while they were also on placement with a client company that might subsequently hire them. If they did, ASI would receive a fee. Cummings has written at length about the potential benefits of using talented individuals with accomplished scientific backgrounds to diversify and improve decision-making in organisations and in government. He recruited Faculty to work on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016. After Cummings was appointed chief adviser to Johnson last year, Ben Warner, a Faculty data scientist who worked with him on the Vote Leave project, was hired as an adviser to No 10 on data and technology. Warner is the brother of Marc Warner, the co-founder and chief executive of Faculty. Cummings has credited his unexpected victory in the EU referendum to “having experts in physics and machine learning do proper data science in the way only they can.” He believes lessons of the Brexit vote should be applied not only to future political campaigns, but also to government. Cummings wrote in a 2016 blogpost:

One of the many ways in which Whitehall and Downing Street should be revolutionised is to integrate physicist-dominated data science in decision-making.

Faculty said its government work had always been obtained through proper procurement processes. The company’s shareholders include two current and former Conservative ministers. John Nash, minister for the school system from 2013 to 2017, as well as his successor, Theodore Agnew, were both early investors in the firm after buying shares in 2016. The PR and communications firm Hanbury has also been a client for Faculty. Hanbury was co-founded in Sep 2016 by Paul Stephenson, Vote Leave’s director of communications, and is helping to carry out recruitment of special advisers for Downing Street. A spox declined to discuss the details of the work, citing confidentiality, saying only:

Hanbury has in the past worked with ASI/Faculty on a limited number of projects. We are not currently working on any projects together.

Faculty’s recent government work has been its involvement in creating a Covid-19 datastore to help senior government officials respond to the pandemic. The work with NHSX, the digital innovation arm of the health service, is understood to have involved extensive data modelling. A Dept of Health source described Marc Warner dropping Cummings’ name in his meetings, saying the chief executive of Faculty gave the impression he had the personal support of the prime minister’s chief adviser. The senior source said:

Warner would casually tell officials “Don’t worry, I’ll text Dom,” or “I’m talking to Dom later.” It felt like he was bragging about it. The impression left among civil servants was that the Covid-19 datastore was a Cummings project.

Faculty said it had delivered work for hundreds of clients in more than a dozen countries, and that the majority of its work was in the private sector. It said it had never received or benefited from any favouritism by Cummings or any other political figure. The firm also said the political persuasion of its clients was immaterial, and that it did not take political positions. it said:

We win work on the strength of our results that are achieved through our extensive domain knowledge and high technical competency. We are committed to the safe use of AI and have published a number of scientific research papers and built practical tooling to help address this.

Faculty said the company no longer accepted commercial work from political organisations. A No 10 spox said all contracts awarded to Faculty followed proper procurement procedures. She said:

On becoming a special adviser, Mr Cummings started a new job and gave up any commercial roles. The necessary steps have rightly been taken to wind down his previous company. Special advisers have no role in authorising the expenditure of public funds.

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