Government not ready for the impact of artificial intelligence, MPs claim

AI and robotics have the scope for “fundamentally reshape” the way people live and work, but the government is currently unprepared to address the issues raised by these changes.

Government not ready for the impact of artificial intelligence, MPs claim

This comes according to MPs on the Science and Technology Committee, who have published a report calling on the government to do more to address the ethical and societal impact of AI.

The MPs conclude that the government should establish a commission on artificial intelligence, as a means to lead the discussion on new technology and to develop a proper strategy for living in a post-AI world.

“Artificial intelligence has some way to go before we see systems and robots as portrayed in the creative arts such as Star Wars,” said acting chair of the committee, Dr Tania Mathias. “At present, ‘AI machines’ have narrow and specific roles, such as in voice-recognition or playing the board game ‘Go’. But science fiction is slowly becoming science fact, and robotics and AI look destined to play an increasing role in our lives over the coming decades.

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“It is too soon to set down sector-wide regulations for this nascent field, but it is vital that careful scrutiny of the ethical, legal and societal ramifications of artificially intelligent systems begins now.”snips_-_irobot_ai

The report points to driverless cars, supercomputers that help with medical diagnoses, and intelligent tutoring systems as examples of areas where AI is transforming everyday life, raising questions about the transparency of AI decision-making and privacy. The report also notes that UK-startups and UK universities have made huge contributions to the field from a technological point of view, but that there is not enough government leadership in the area. 

“Government leadership in the fields of robotics and AI has been lacking,” said Dr Mathias. “Some major technology companies – including Google and Amazon – have recently come together to form the ‘Partnership on AI’. While it is encouraging that the sector is thinking about the risks and benefits of AI, this does not absolve the Government of its responsibilities.”

The committee called for the commission to be established in the Alan Turing Institute, based in the British Library, “to identify principles for governing the development and application of AI, and to foster public debate”. Dr Mathias made a comparison to the commission on human fertilisation and embryology, set up by Mary Warnock in the 1980s, which gave the UK a lead in the regulation of reproductive technology.

Displacing and creating jobs

The committee didn’t present a unified view on the impact of automation of the UK’s workforce, acknowledging that there conflicting views about the predicted impact. Dr Mathias said that concerns about machines taking jobs “have persisted for centuries”, but admitted it is conceivable for AI to both displace and create jobs. The importance should be placed on developing a new skillset for the future, she claimed.

“This requires a commitment by the government to ensure that our education and training systems are flexible, so that they can adapt as opportunities and demands on the workforce change,” said Dr Mathias, adding that it is “disappointing” the government has yet to publish its digital strategy on equipping UK workers with skills for the future.

One of the companies consulted by the committee is the Google-owned British firm DeepMind, which has more than 250 researchers working on AI in its London base.

In its written submission to the committee, the company said: “The impact of AI will reflect the values of those who build it. AI is a tool that we humans will design, control and direct. It is up to us all to direct that tool towards the common good.”

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