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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:14 pm on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Rock Baroness Rock Conservative 4:14 pm, 19th November 2018

My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, as an outstanding Chairman of our Select Committee, and I thank all noble Lords on the committee for their warm collaboration and insights on this important report. We could not have completed the report without the hard work of the committee staff, advisers and clerks, for which many thanks. It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate today, especially since I believe we have built up significant momentum on this important subject. We must develop our AI capability: it will underpin our future competitiveness. China has set a goal of $150 billion investment in AI by 2030. I am not suggesting that we emulate that—not least because it is not just about money—but it is strong evidence that AI is a key component of the global economy of the future.

I shall focus today on how we must foster evolving technologies, but before I do, I will begin with ethics, as other noble Lords have done and as I think this whole debate must. Many speakers today also contributed to the recent debate in this House on the NHS and healthcare data, which focused on how NHS data might be used to ultimately benefit patients and the service as a whole for the public good, but without jeopardising confidentiality. In their response to our committee the Government indicated that there were lessons to be learned from the DeepMind/Royal Free case.

To address these and other issues, the committee welcomed the creation of a national Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. Since our report, we have had a consultation on the centre’s remit, which sets out three functions: to analyse and anticipate risks and opportunities; to agree and articulate best practice; and to advise on the need for action. The first is important as it links the centre to growth and development. The last two will be critical not only for working through the thorny questions of ethics and data, but also, importantly, for communicating what needs to be done and calling on the Government to act where required. The centre can build public confidence and trust in how new technologies are being deployed and how their data is being used to support future innovation.

So to growth and innovation. Priorities for entrepreneurs and start-ups developing AI are the same. What do they need? People and money: the right skills, talent and investment. Beginning with investment, there is undoubtedly cause for optimism. While the Government did not accept the committee’s recommendation to ring-fence a proportion of the British Business Bank’s £2.5 billion investment fund for AI-focused businesses, there is still a significant pool of capital from which funds can be raised; and, given the growth potential, we can be reasonably sure that the investment teams at the BBB will give serious consideration to AI businesses.

Furthermore, commercialising our world-class university intellectual property in this field is a great opportunity to enable rapid growth. Our committee asked universities to set out clearly their principles for handling IP, licensing and supporting spin-outs. The Government highlighted in their response the role of the Alan Turing Institute in looking specifically at commercialisation opportunities, and Research England has developed benchmarking for how well universities commercialise research. I also highlight the strong role the Government are playing in nurturing growth. The industrial strategy of course gives great prominence to AI, but we now have the AI sector deal as well, which establishes the AI council, which will blend academia and industry to ensure that we are fully exploiting the opportunity, attracting AI entrepreneurs to the UK, as well as supporting exports in this space. Lastly, in this as in many other respects, government as buyer can really move the needle. The GovTech Catalyst fund will provide £20 million for businesses using AI to help solve public sector challenges.

Turning to skills, I commend the appointment of Professor Dame Wendy Hall as the first Skills Champion for AI. No doubt she will ensure continued momentum. The commitments in the AI sector deal are significant but we need to make sure that they are delivered. In particular, where measures are sector-agnostic, we need to ensure that they are promoted to AI specialists; for example, as the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, mentioned, the doubling of tier 1 exceptional talent visas from 1,000 to 2,000 a year—leaving aside whether this should be higher still. Some of the skills content in the sector deal is admirably specific, in particular the proposed Turing Fellowship to help attract and retain the best research talent in AI, and adding a further 200 doctoral studentships in AI by 2020.

Finally, I will say a brief word on the potential impact on the labour force. After all, in our rush to build capacity and capability, we must ensure that growth in AI is as inclusive as possible. I welcome what is set out in the sector deal on training and new degrees.

Overall, we must remain optimistic about the benefits of AI to our economy and our society—the boost to our productivity and the exciting applications in everything from agriculture to healthcare. We have a robust framework for growth now in place in both capital and skills—the two prime determinants in scaling up businesses. To bring all this together, we need leadership from the highest level. Once the Brexit smog clears, we must ask what kind of economy we are trying to build. I suggest that we are gathered here today because we believe we can succeed if we incorporate AI and other technologies into our economy. Our committee concluded that the UK is in a strong position to be among the world leaders in the development of AI during the 21st century. We must continue to be its champions.