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No room for government complacency on artificial intelligence, says new Lords report

Friday 18 December 2020

The Government needs to better coordinate its artificial intelligence (AI) policy and the use of data and technology by national and local government.

There is also now a clear consensus that ethical AI is the only sustainable way forward. The time has come for the Government to move from deciding what the ethics are, to how to instil them in the development and deployment of AI systems.

These are the main conclusions of the House of Lords Liaison Committee’s report, AI in the UK: No Room for Complacency, published today, 18 December.

This report examines the progress made by the Government in the implementation of the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence in its 2018 report AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?

Lord Clement-Jones, who was Chair of the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, said:

“The Government has done well to establish a range of bodies to advise it on AI over the long term. However, we caution against complacency. There must be more and better coordination, and it must start at the top.

“A Cabinet Committee must be created whose first task should be to commission and approve a five-year strategy for AI. The strategy should prepare society to take advantage of AI rather than be taken advantage of by it.

“The Government must lead the way on making ethical AI a reality. To not do so would be to waste the progress it has made to date, and to squander the opportunities AI presents for everyone in the UK.”

Other findings and conclusions include:

  • The increase in reliance on technology caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has highlighted the opportunities and risks associated with the use of technology, and in particular, data. Active steps must be taken by the Government to explain to the general public the use of their personal data by AI.
  • The Government must take immediate steps to appoint a Chief Data Officer, whose responsibilities should include acting as a champion for the opportunities presented by AI in the public service, and ensuring that understanding and use of AI, and the safe and principled use of public data, are embedded across the public service.
  • A problem remains with the general digital skills base in the UK. Around 10 per cent of UK adults were non-internet users in 2018. The Government should takes steps to ensure that the digital skills of the UK are brought up to speed, as well as to ensure that people have the opportunity to reskill and retrain to be able to adapt to the evolving labour market caused by AI.
  • AI will become embedded in everything we do. It will not necessarily make huge numbers of people redundant, but when the COVID-19 pandemic recedes and the Government has to address the economic impact of it, the nature of work will change and there will be a need for different jobs and skills. This will be complemented by opportunities for AI, and the Government and industry must be ready to ensure that retraining opportunities take account of this. In particular the AI Council should identify the industries most at risk, and the skills gaps in those industries. A specific national training scheme should be designed to support people to work alongside AI and automation, and to be able to maximise its potential.
  • The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) should establish and publish national standards for the ethical development and deployment of AI. These standards should consist of two frameworks, one for the ethical development of AI, including issues of prejudice and bias, and the other for the ethical use of AI by policymakers and businesses.
  • For its part, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) must develop a training course for use by regulators to give their staff a grounding in the ethical and appropriate use of public data and AI systems, and its opportunities and risks. Such training should be prepared with input from the CDEI, the Government’s Office for AI and Alan Turing Institute.
  • The Autonomy Development Centre will be inhibited by the failure to align the UK’s definition of autonomous weapons with international partners: doing so must be a first priority for the Centre once established.
  • The UK remains an attractive place to learn, develop, and deploy AI. The Government must ensure that changes to the immigration rules must promote rather than obstruct the study, research and development of AI.

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