The UK is totally unprepared for our robot future, MPs warn

Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are going to completely change how we live and work but the UK government is totally unprepared, MPs have warned.

The Science and Technology Committee released a report on Wednesday warning that the UK government “does not yet have a strategy” for equipping citizens with the skills they need to flourish in a world where AI is more prevalent.

It also has no strategy for dealing with the social and ethical dilemmas that AI advances present, the report states.

Acting chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Dr Tania Mathias MP, said in a statement: “Artificial intelligence has some way to go before we see systems and robots as portrayed in the creative arts such as Star Wars. At present, ‘AI machines’ have narrow and specific roles, such as in voice-recognition or playing the board game ‘Go’.

“But science fiction is slowly becoming science fact, and robotics and AI look destined to play an increasing role in our lives over the coming decades. It is too soon to set down sector-wide regulations for this nascent field but it is vital that careful scrutiny of the ethical, legal and societal ramifications of artificially intelligent systems begins now.”

The Committee — comprised of 14 MPs appointed by the House of Commons — pointed out that AI systems are starting to have transformational impacts on everyday life, calling out driverless cars and computers that can help doctors to diagnose patients as examples.

But advances in AI raise a host of questions for society, according to the Committee, particularly around ethics, transparency, and privacy.

The Committee has called on the government to create a new “Commission on Artificial Intelligence” at the Alan Turing Institute, headquartered at the British Library in London, to examine the social, ethical, and legal implications of recent and potential developments in AI.

The UK is well-placed to become a world leader in this type of “intellectual leadership,” the Committee said, adding that UK engineers have developed improved automated voice recognition software, predictive text keyboards on smartphones, and autonomous vehicles.

While UK AI startups often punch above their weight, the UK government is failing to deliver leadership in the field of AI, according to the Committee.

“Government leadership in the fields of robotics and AI has been lacking. Some major technology companies — including Google and Amazon — have recently come together to form the ‘Partnership on AI’,” said Mathias. “While it is encouraging that the sector is thinking about the risks and benefits of AI, this does not absolve the government of its responsibilities. It should establish a ‘Commission on Artificial Intelligence’ to identify principles for governing the development and application of AI, and to foster public debate.”

In terms of robots taking people’s jobs, there are conflicting views, the Committee says. However, despite the differing views, the Committee believes that “a much greater focus” is needed on adjusting the UK’s education and training systems to deliver the skills that will enable people to adapt and thrive as the new technology comes to fruition.

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