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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:55 pm on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat 5:55 pm, 19th November 2018

My Lords, I particularly thank my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones for so ably chairing the Select Committee and leading this debate. It is a tribute to his indefatigable energy and intellect that the report was so well received. Indeed, when we had a training session on neural networks, he left us all in his wake and proved why he was such an able chair. It is also a tribute to the excellent staff already named. As the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, mentioned, it was an absolute pleasure to work alongside each other.

Thanks to all the people described, it is fair to say that the report has become a touchstone for a comprehensive view of all things AI in the UK. All of us who served on the committee would agree that the depth and breadth of engagement we have been involved in following publication has been extremely encouraging, if not breath-taking. Attending the CogX conference alone was inspirational for me, and the appointment of Tabitha Goldstaub, co-founder of CognitionX, to the AI council is a very welcome move. It is not often that our Select Committee reports trend on Twitter but we did on the day that we published the report, and the media coverage was very positive. Of course, there is always the exception that proves every rule. Despite the fact that we were clear throughout the report that this was not about robots, we could always rely on the Daily Mail and its headline: “Killer robots could become a reality unless a moral code is created for AI, peers warn”.

Of course, the role of politicians is a critical question in a report such as this. Artificial intelligence is one of those moral, economic and social issues where politicians have to engage and set the all-important frameworks so that a business sector can thrive but at the same time society is enhanced and protected. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, pointed out, we looked particularly at the model of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, set up in the wake of the Warnock committee’s work on the moral and ethical debate as technology progressed. As an IVF mum, I could not be more grateful for that combination—set out by this Parliament—of ethical framework and technological progress.

Now, as then, this whole new world of artificial intelligence is crying out for the right kind of strategic leadership, as was highlighted by the noble Baronesses, Lady Rock and Lady Kidron, and the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin. The committee highlighted that a key role for us was to clarify which organisations needed to take up that role. I apologise for the plug but the table at the back of the index is where we put that, and we were very proud of the work that the committee did on that. That is why the overview of the Office for Artificial Intelligence is so critical, why a national policy framework is so essential, and why the role of the AI council is key. I particularly look forward to hearing more detail from the Minister about the progress that the AI council has made to date. However, all these organisations that I have described—and many more—need an ethical framework, ideally one that is global. As my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones explained, the time for action on this is now.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who I noticed delivered the five codes from his high-tech tablet, described them very well. He steered us extremely well on the committee over a mountain of AI evidence on those five overarching principles that ensure that AI needs to be targeted at the common good. The noble Baroness, Lady Rock, referenced the national centre for data ethics and innovation and the potential for that organisation to build trust. Certainly on these Benches we see the governance of that organisation, and data trusts in particular, as critical to building public confidence. In fact in a previous article the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, described these codes as a new Magna Carta and I agree. One of the most important questions for this Government to answer in the light of this report remains: will they consider developing an ethical code for the development and use of AI? Do they intend to develop that code at an international level? When President Putin says:

“Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world”,

he is not kidding. We very much need to be part of a global movement that sets the parameters for AI.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, focused on data ownership, particularly among children, and on the availability of open data. My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, talked about the anonymisation of that data. In the committee, we looked at the portability of data a great deal and found that it was critical, as was the ICO having adequate resources, as the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, mentioned.

However, it is not sufficient to regulate for the here and now; we must equip people for the future. Education was discussed a great deal. The evidence that the general public put this issue in the “too far in the future” or “too difficult to explain” columns—particularly noticeable among parents of school-aged children—should be alarming to government. For adults, a significant government investment in skills and training is all-important or many will miss out on the AI opportunity altogether. I felt it was disappointing that the Government did not engage with the recommendations in this part of the report. What if the general public do not understand the opportunities of AI? For instance, people running SMEs might have little understanding about the take-up, and therefore the market that they can provide, for start-ups in AI if they are not engaged or do not understand that AI can be relevant to them. Only last week, I spoke to a group of parents in a school and when I explained about AI, their eyes glazed over. But when I asked, “Do any of you use an app on your phone to tell you when the bus is about to arrive?”, all of them said yes. It is about how we make this relevant to people so that they understand that they need to get engaged—to be educated and be part of this revolution, not left behind by it.

With regard to investment in business, I noticed a different figure for how much China is investing so I feel that I must contribute it to the debate. The Lords Library briefing says that China is investing $425 billion in AI by 2020—a different figure from that used by the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. I am sure that someone, perhaps the Minister, will correct us on that.

The future of work will look so different and we must equip our young children in schools to be ready for that future. The ethical must be a part of that curriculum as well and, while the curriculum has made a significant step forward, teacher confidence and parental engagement must improve. We also must continue to recognise the value of critical thinking skills from an early age, which means continued emphasis on humanities as well as learning coding from key stage 1. By the way, five and six year-olds in key stage 1 are now learning how to remove a bug from a code. Teacher confidence on how to teach that is not quite there yet and we need to improve it. Will the Minister explain why our recommendations about ensuring that teachers have time to learn these skills was rejected in the Government’s response?

On education, the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, described the potential for commercial and academic partnerships and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, spoke of the disruption to employment and the danger of greater inequality. We agree. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, gave an excellent description of how this technology can work in the health service but ringing in my mind is the evidence we took from Professor Susskind, who explained to us that even surgeons will eventually be redundant through AI. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Reid, when I asked about empathy it was Professor Susskind who said in clear terms that algorithms can sometimes spot when older people are in distress at a far faster pace than other human beings. I leave that with your Lordships; I am not saying that I necessarily agree.

If AI is to work in the future, above all it has to represent everyone. For me, one of the most striking phrases given to us came from Olivier Thereaux, who said:

“We take bias, which in certain forms is what we call ‘culture’, put it in a black box and crystallise it for ever. That is where we have a problem. We have even more of a problem when we think that that black box has the truth and we follow it blindly”.

I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Reid, who nailed the danger of bias. We have already had a description of a glass box and the potential that provides. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, talked about the potential for blockchain technology to overcome some of these problems.

Simply put, if an algorithm followed the gender balance we currently have in the House of Lords, this place will continue in its failure to reflect the rest of the population it serves. We had many recommendations about overcoming bias in our report but, in particular, I would like the Minister to address the very simple and low-cost proposal to have an industrial strategy challenge fund to stimulate the creation of tools to test datasets and ensure that they are representative. I ask him to take another look at that proposal because if AI is the future, then we cannot start from here with the current data that is fed into it. As my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones and the noble Baroness, Lady Rock, said, we absolutely must encourage greater diversity.

There is tremendous opportunity and, of course, threat in artificial intelligence. But in the UK, whatever the outcome of Brexit, there stands a real opportunity for us to shape that future by leading in ethical and economic development so that everyone benefits.