Artificial Intelligence (Select Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 19th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative 3:21 pm, 19th November 2018

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, as it was to witness his excellent chairmanship of the AI Select Committee—not an easy task in such a complex area. There is nothing new in AI. In 1950, the Turing test was coined. In 1956, 12 professors from Dartmouth in the United States were sent off on their summer vacation to “solve the issue of artificial intelligence”. I am not sure whether they are still out there, but there is still plenty to be discussed in this area.

In the short time I have, I shall cover data, talent, clusters and, most importantly, public engagement. As with every element of the fourth industrial revolution—4IR—data is at its core. It is often called the new oil, but this dramatically undersells the quality of data—not least that it is pretty much infinite. Ninety per cent of all data currently out there was created in the past two years, to give noble Lords a sense of the exponential growth of data.

For the Government, there are huge questions about the data that they have, what form it is in and what should be done with it—not least NHS data, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred. Indeed, what is NHS data? Crucially, whose data is it? To echo a point that the noble Lord made, I ask the Minister to respond to the House on DeepMind’s recent announcement about moving its health business into Google.

For businesses, the questions are: what data do you have and what you want to do with it? AI offers such potential, but as with all the other elements of the fourth industrial revolution, it should never be something in search of a solution but more, the potential to solve some of the most intractable problems for business, government and individuals. As I have mentioned individuals, perhaps the most significant point to consider is that we may hold our smartphone in our hands, but it is the size of our data footprint that we should think most about.

Turning to talent, no matter how good the artificial intelligence is, ultimately it is people who will need to be prime throughout the fourth industrial revolution. Not least of these will be international people coming over to be part of building the AI revolution for which the United Kingdom has such a—perhaps unique—potential. However, our immigration system is described as “expensive”, “tedious” and “putting people off”. The Indian Prime Minister, Mr Modi, talking about international students, put it very well: “You want our trade; you do not want our children”. Does the Minister believe that the current immigration system is fit for purpose and optimised to enable us to make a real success of artificial intelligence and all elements of the fourth industrial revolution? Does he agree that it is high time that, as a start, international students were removed from the net migration statistics?

I turn to clusters. AI offers the potential, which has always been present in our society, to enable collaboration across sectors for stunning results. The industrialist, engineer, biologist and neurologist are coming together in fabulous clusters to drive the future. Noble Lords need only go to Pancras Square to see this in action. Yes, it has beautiful buildings, but what you really feel when you step into the square is one great big, beating brain. The golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London offers potential to be the beating heart of AI development and deployment. What is the current situation with the upgrade to the varsity line, which would make such a difference? Infrastructure is key to the success of AI. We can develop algorithms that are as clever as we like, but if we do not have the physical infrastructure, with the fastest broadband, much of this will not achieve its full potential.

Public engagement is the real key. The massive success—or not—of AI will rest upon it. Do people feel part of the AI revolution? Have the public been engaged and do they understand that this is not for a few people in large organisations or government? Everybody has to understand and be positively part of this. If not, AI is likely to be the latest GM in our society. We have reason to believe that we can get this right when we look at the fabulous work on reproductive technology that Baroness Warnock did so many years ago. It was a stunning success because the public were engaged and there was an understanding of who would benefit and where any risks might lie. It will not be enough for a few people in the tech majors or government to believe that the public will just accept AI because they have decided that there are benefits, when there has been no explanation of where those may be felt and, crucially, where the risks may fall.

Shame on us if we do not make a success of AI and the fourth industrial revolution. Without being naive or Panglossian about it—I understand the risks—the possibility of solving some of our most intractable problems is immense, not least in health, mobility and social integration. This is not just about AI: if we get it right we can have a 4IR, fully fuelled, better Britain.