artificial intelligence

AI needs international ethics rules, says Theresa May

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Artificial intelligence (AI) should adhere to a set of internationally agreed upon ethical rules, according to Theresa May, who wants to address concerns over the impact it could have on privacy and employment in the future.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the UK’s Prime Minister said she wanted to make the UK a world leader in innovative technologies, including AI, which could provide “a path to deliver prosperity and growth for all our people”.

She added: “When technology platforms work across geographical boundaries, no one country and no one government alone can deliver the international norms, rules and standards for a global digital world.”

In a global digital age, “we need the norms and rules we establish to be shared by all”, she said.

“That includes establishing the rules and standards that can make the most of artificial intelligence in a responsible way, such as by ensuring that algorithms don’t perpetuate the human biases of their developers.”

May told her audience of political and business leaders in the Swiss ski resort: “We have to do more to help our people in the changing global economy, to rebuild their trust in technology as a driver of progress and ensure no-one is left behind as we take the next leap forwards.

“We have to remember that the risks and challenges we face do not outweigh the opportunities. In seeking to refresh the rules to meet the challenges of today, we must not miss out on the prize for tomorrow.

“For the forces of free trade and technological progress which have brought us to this point are as nothing in comparison to their potential to enrich the lives of our children and grandchildren.

“The United Kingdom has a proud history of stepping up, seizing the opportunities of our time and shaping the international rules and partnerships that can deliver progress for all.

“We stand ready to do so again.”

May said that the government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation would work closely with international partners to build a “common understanding” on the safe and ethical deployment of AI.

She also confirmed the UK is joining the WEF’s new council on artificial intelligence to shape global governance of the new technology.

Jonathan Ebsworth, head of disruptive technologies at Infosys Consulting, said: “In spite of tremendous recent advances, AI is in its infancy; we are still blind to many of the ethical dilemmas that this technology will impose on our lives.

“Existing laws and codes of ethics were not designed with an AI-enabled world in mind and it’s clear that we need guidelines and a code of practice to ensure that humans are not harmed by new technology. This is not a new idea: Isaac Asimov developed his Three Laws of Robotics more than three quarters of a century ago, after all.

“This new committee must resist intervention in specific projects unless there is a very clear public interest, and to this end we urge industry to be closely involved with the new panel. It’s vital that we get the ethics of AI right, and doing so can help to cement the UK’s role not only as a leader in technology, but also in its ethical application.”

Peter Pugh-Jones, head of technology at SAS UK & Ireland said: “Despite Theresa May’s confidence that the UK can become a world leader in AI, there is still a gap between what UK organisations claim they’re doing and what they’re actually doing.

“More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of businesses claim to be actively using AI in marketing, communications or customer service. However, there is a difference between simple automation of tasks and having the vital, predictive AI capability that adds real business value.

“Our research also shows that nearly half of business leaders (41 per cent) are held back from using AI by a lack of skills and concerns that the technology is still in its infancy. Over a third (38 per cent) are hesitant due to stories of AI malfunctioning, and a further 36 per cent don’t trust it altogether.

“A lack of applicable skills is also cited as one of the biggest concerns within the field (66 per cent). For the UK to take a leading role in AI, the skills gap must be closed and there needs to be greater understanding of the business value that AI can deliver.

“The UK’s strong tech start-up market means it’s well placed to lead the AI boom, and the technology is already here to deliver it. But the government must prioritise developing skilled workers before the balance of power shifts.”

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