Artificial intelligence should have a clear ethical dimension, claims new government report

While the UK is in a strong position to be a world leader in the development of artificial intelligence which would deliver a major boost to the economy, ethics should be at the heart of its development, according to a new report from the House of Lords. AI should never be given the “autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive” people, it adds. The Lords’ report called on the government to support businesses in the field. It also recommended that people be educated to work alongside AI in the jobs of the future. It said that such education would “mitigate the negative effects” on jobs which are possible as AI develops.

Earlier this month Singapore brought together industry players to work on guidelines for its “responsible and ethical” use in the financial services sector.

The House of Lords report – AI in the UK: Ready, Willing and Able? – outlines five key principles that should form the basis of a cross-sector code, which can be adopted nationally and internationally and which will delight fans of Isaac Asimov:

  • AI should be developed for the common good and benefit of humanity.
  • AI should operate on principles of intelligibility and fairness.
  • AI 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 AI.
  • The autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive human beings should never be vested in AI.

The report also says that government should make significant investments in skills and training to mitigate the effect of AI on job losses as well as give people greater control over their data and prevent big tech firms monopolising data.

Other conclusions from the report include:

  • Many jobs will be enhanced by AI, many will disappear and many new, as yet unknown jobs, will be created. Significant Government investment in skills and training will be necessary to mitigate the negative effects of AI. Retraining will become a lifelong necessity.
  • Individuals need to be able to have greater personal control over their data, and the way in which it is used. The ways in which data is gathered and accessed needs to change, so that everyone can have fair and reasonable access to data, while citizens and consumers can protect their privacy and personal agency. This means using established concepts, such as open data, ethics advisory boards and data protection legislation, and developing new frameworks and mechanisms, such as data portability and data trusts.
  • The monopolisation of data by big technology companies must be avoided, and greater competition is required. The Government, with the Competition and Markets Authority, must review the use of data by large technology companies operating in the UK.
  • The prejudices of the past must not be unwittingly built into automated systems. The Government should incentivise the development of new approaches to the auditing of datasets used in AI, and also to encourage greater diversity in the training and recruitment of AI specialists.
  • Transparency in AI is needed. The industry, through the AI Council, should establish a voluntary mechanism to inform consumers when AI is being used to make significant or sensitive decisions.
  • At earlier stages of education, children need to be adequately prepared for working with, and using, AI. The ethical design and use of AI should become an integral part of the curriculum.
  • The Government should be bold and use targeted procurement to provide a boost to AI development and deployment. It could encourage the development of solutions to public policy challenges through speculative investment. There have been impressive advances in AI for healthcare, which the NHS should capitalise on.
  • It is not currently clear whether existing liability law will be sufficient when AI systems malfunction or cause harm to users, and clarity in this area is needed. The Committee recommend that the Law Commission investigate this issue.
  • The Government needs to draw up a national policy framework, in lockstep with the Industrial Strategy, to ensure the coordination and successful delivery of AI policy in the UK.

The Chairman of the Committee, 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.”

Image: From the front cover of Isaac Asimov’s Robot Visions, available at Amazon and fine bookstores

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