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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:16 pm on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Suri Lord Suri Conservative 5:16 pm, 19th November 2018

My Lords, we have become used to seeing artificial intelligence as the enemy. Representations in popular culture have not helped in this. From “The Terminator” to the “Avengers” films, AI is presented as getting out of control and surpassing its creators. Authoritarian leaders seem obsessed with harnessing AI to bolster their military defences. Xi Jinping has pledged to become equal with the US in artificial intelligence by 2020 and overtake it by 2025. Vladimir Putin said last year that whichever country achieved dominance in AI would come to dominate global affairs. The combination of these threats, unknowns and challenges has come to fix in the public mind a mistrust of AI. I hope that this salient report and some of its recommendations can create a more positive image.

The uses of AI go far beyond military technology. Like the information revolution, AI is poised to sweep all before it and revolutionise working. This requires deep thinking and a proper strategy to cope with the loss of jobs. Many jobs can be created from AI, and the UK has the potential to become a global leader, but we must grasp the nettle as soon as possible. One of the biggest problems with Brexit is that it has swallowed up this Parliament and looks to swallow up the next one too. Germany has a full strategy in place for dealing with this new revolution while we have only just put ours into place. The Secretary of State for BEIS has made some good speeches but we need a dedicated Minister to really drive this package through, as with the industrial strategy.

Happily, we start from a position of strength. The reputation of our dedicated Technology and Construction Court and the flexibility of the common law have made the UK a regulatory leader, even if the legislative input has been slighter than might have been expected. Furthermore, our world-class universities have continued to churn out talented graduates who can attract existing firms and start them up themselves. AI is also one of the sectors that has spread wealth around the UK. AI firms are thriving in Leeds, Glasgow, Manchester and many other places without feeling the urge to clump in London.

One of the most significant threats I foresee is a fall in the number of people permitted to come to the UK to work in AI. More than almost any other sector, tech firms rely heavily on the ability to draw in talent from overseas. Post Brexit, our immigration policy must be totally focused on quality; AI represents unparalleled potential gains. The report shows that it could add an additional £630 billion to the economy by 2035. That is not an opportunity to pass up. We must be clear that those coming to work in AI are an enormous asset and we should be happy to welcome them.

The Government can also do more in their own affairs. In total, the Government produce more data than any other UK institution. When she was at Defra, the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury spearheaded a policy to release all its data in an open and machine-readable format. This was a stunning success and must be emulated across government. Obviously some sectors are more sensitive than others but, frankly, departments have a tendency to silo their data and not let private firms access it for free. We must look to ourselves first and do what we can to encourage domestic industry.