Government can’t be complacent with AI, says Lords report

Report urges coordination on policy and use of artificial intelligence, and sets out recommendations for how official bodies should respond to advances in the technology

The UK government needs better coordination of its artificial intelligence (AI) policy and should implement ethics into the development and deployment of the technology at a national and local level, a new House of Lords report has concluded.

The report, AI in the UK: no room for complacency, published by the House of Lords Liaison Committee today, examines the the progress made in relation to the recommendations set out in a previous report, AI in the UK: ready, willing and able? which was published by the committee in 2018.

Overall, the report considers that the government has “done well” in terms of establishing various bodies to advise on AI in the long term, but decision-makers should be aware of potential complacency. “There must be more and better coordination, and it must start at the top,” said Lord Clement-Jones, chairman of the Select Committee on AI.

The report urges the government to “take immediate steps” to appoint a chief data officer, with a remit that would include acting as a champion for the opportunities presented by AI in the public service. According to the committee, that role should also focus on ensuring that an understanding of the use of AI, as well as the safe and principled use of public data, are embedded across the public service.

Clement-Jones said a cabinet committee must be created and prioritise the commission and approval of a five-year strategy for AI, with the aim of preparing society to “take advantage of AI rather than be taken advantage of by it”. One of the points made in the report was that the Covid-19 crisis highlighted the risks and opportunities relating to AI and data in particular – and that the government should educate the general public about the use of their personal data by AI.

“The government must lead the way on making ethical AI a reality,” he said. “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.”

The Lords report said the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) should establish and publish national standards for the ethical development and deployment of AI, consisting 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.

The report suggested that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), alongside the CDEI, the Government’s Office for AI and the Alan Turing Institute, must develop a course to train regulators in the ethical and appropriate use, opportunities and risks around public data and AI systems.

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Also, the Lords report noted that 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,” it noted.

The issue relating to the UK’s general digital skills base is also among the findings and conclusions of the report. It pointed out that about 10% of UK adults were non-internet users in 2018 and that steps should be taken by the government to “ensure that the digital skills of the UK are brought up to speed”.

People must have the opportunity to reskill and retrain in order to respond to the changes in the jobs market caused by AI, said the report, with a specific national training scheme created to enable people to work alongside AI and automation, and be able to maximise its potential.

Also on jobs, the report points out that AI will not necessarily make scores of people redundant, but when the Covid-19 pandemic subsides and the government moves to address the economic fallout of the crisis, the nature of work will have changed and there will be a different need for 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,” said the report, adding that the AI Council should identify the industries most at risk, and the skills gaps in those industries.

The Lords report also noted that he government should take steps to ensure that 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,” it added.

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