In an interview run on the second day of London Tech Week, Labour leader Keir Starmer stressed the importance of looking at the workforce impact of artificial intelligence (AI).
“More broadly, AI is accelerating so very fast that some of the jobs that are being done now by people will almost certainly be done by AI,” said Starmer. “I’m really struck by the speed of acceleration of development in AI and so we [must] put ourselves in a position to take advantage of the great benefits but guard against the risks.”
Recalling a recent visit to Hinckley Point C, the nuclear reactor that is being built in Somerset, Starmer said: “They’ve got 9,000 people on the construction site. It’s a massive site, the biggest construction site I think in Europe, and they have to bus them around the site the whole time.”
He said there were already questions of whether AI could be used to drive autonomous buses around the site, but he said there was a need to assess the impact on jobs.
While Starmer would not be drawn on the “staggering percentages” of jobs at risk, he voiced concern that the UK’s financial services and creative industries would be affected: “The UK has huge strength in financial services and creative services, which could be fairly wiped out.
“I don’t know the number, and I’m not sure anybody really does, but the percentages that have been put out there are quite staggering, and you can see why, because AI is now moving so fast.
“It is capable of doing things like drafting contracts, writing documents, assessing financial material, helping with driving buses and radiologist scanning. It is obvious it will have an impact. The question is, how do we harness that good?”
When asked about the AI summit being hosted in the UK later in the year, Starmer agreed with the government’s line that AI is really important for the UK, but his big concern is the regulatory framework.
“We’ve got brilliant innovation, brilliant universities, and we’ve got all the attributes to make a real success of this, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be on the question of regulation,” he said. “There’s a bit of piecemeal sector-by-sector regulation, in the medical field, the legal field, financial services. But we haven’t got an overarching framework, so we’ve got to get our hands around this.”
Starmer wants policy-makers to be clear about what is being done about the jobs risk. “An incoming Labour government will be a government that partners with business with a clear long-term strategy, a skills strategy and an industrial strategy,” he said. “That means that we work together with business.”
Starmer believes there needs to be a much more informed discussion about jobs, saying: “You need a government that’s on the pitch, working with business to say that if there are to be changes in jobs – let’s say there are job losses – what are we going to do about the workforce?”
Read more about AI policy
- Critical computing expert Dan McQuillan speaks to Computer Weekly about the top-down imposition of artificial intelligence on society, and how AI is a fundamentally political technology.
- At the start of May, US edutech firm Chegg saw its share price crash after its CEO, Dan Rosensweig, said the company had been impacted by ChatGPT.