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An ethical approach to AI will help the UK become a world leader in the field: House of Lords

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The UK is in a strong position to be a world leader in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) – but an ethical approach to doing so will be central to future success, says a new House of Lords report.

Machine-learning, the precursor to AI, is already widely found across retail, in use in tools from chatbots to recommendations. Retailers from Shop Direct to Yoox Net-A-Porter Group and Ocado are investing heavily in the relevant technologies which are set to lead to true AI in time. Machine learning automates human decision making, enabling it to happen at scale. Retailers will move further towards true AI when they develop machines that can make original decisions, reaching altogether new conclusions.

Today’s report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence suggests that AI could boost the UK economy for years to come. It is calling for an ethical approach alongside a cross-sector AI Code to govern its development.

The report, AI in the UK: Ready, Willing and Able?, calls for five key principles to govern industry regulation.

• Artificial intelligence should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity
• Artificial intelligence should operate on principles of intelligibility and fairness
• Artificial intelligence should not be used to diminish the data rights or privacy of individuals, families or communities
• All citizens should have the right to be educated to enable them to flourish mentally, emotionally and economically alongside artificial intelligence
• The autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive human beings should never be vested in artificial intelligence
• The Committee calls for these principles to form the basis of a cross-sector AI code, which can be adopted nationally, and internationally

Committee chairman Lord Clement-Jones, said: “The UK has a unique opportunity to shape AI positively for the public’s benefit and to lead the international community in AI’s ethical development, rather than passively accept its consequences.

“The UK contains leading AI companies, a dynamic academic research culture, and a vigorous start-up ecosystem as well as a host of legal, ethical, financial and linguistic strengths. We should make the most of this environment, but it is essential that ethics take centre stage in AI’s development and use.

“AI is not without its risks and the adoption of the principles proposed by the Committee will help to mitigate these. An ethical approach ensures the public trusts this technology and sees the benefits of using it. It will also prepare them to challenge its misuse.

“We want to make sure that this country remains a cutting-edge place to research and develop this exciting technology. However, start-ups can struggle to scale up on their own. Our recommendations for a growth fund for SMEs and changes to the immigration system will help to do this.

“We’ve asked whether the UK is ready willing and able to take advantage of AI. With our recommendations, it will be.”

The report addresses fears that jobs will be hit by AI. It says that while many jobs will disappear, others will be improved or be created, and that the government must invest in skills and training – which will itself become a lifelong necessity – in order to mitigate its negative effects.

It also says individuals need to be able to take greater control over their data and how it’s used, getting easier and improved access to their own data, while technology companies should not able able to monopolise that data. The Government, Competition and Markets Authority and the Law Commission should all be involved in reviewing existing legislation around areas from monopolies to who is liable when AI fails, while a national framework policy should ensure the coordination and delivery of AI policy in the UK.

One witness to the committee suggested that around half of 1,200 AI-related start-ups in Europe were located in the UK.

Commenting, John Andrews, chairman of global consumer commerce centre IORMA, said: “I welcome the suggestion in the report that a proportion of the £2.5bn investment fund at the British Business Bank should be reserved as an AI growth fund for SMEs with a substantive AI component. This single move could protect the UK’s lead and build stronger companies capable of winning more business for the UK post-Brexit. But there needs to be private-public advisory guidance to ensure a balanced portfolio of investments and that they are at the sharp edge of innovation to ensure AI is life enhancing for citizens and a tangible driver of economic growth.”

He suggested that the three most relevant uses of AI would be around intelligent automation to improve production and logistics processes, to support existing processes and workers in situations such as surgery, and in optimising innovation.

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