A report published today says the UK Government needs to explore ways the British workforce can deal with social and ethical challenges in a post-AI world.
Many believe that robots and AI have the potential to replace human jobs in the future, but according to the UK’s Science and Technology Committee, the government needs to do more to address the threats.
The MPs on the committee have proposed the idea of a separate commission, where the issues surrounding AI and robotics would be investigated and scrutinised. They want action to be taken as soon as possible.
Attention is needed
If AI and robots are to replace jobs in the future, the committee expects the government to find ways to help humans thrive alongside. To do this, new skills suitable in an AI-led world need to be found.
Although the report outlines the need for consideration on AI’s future, it also explores the current state of the tech. In particular, it questions the ethical issues of AI-based decision-making, as well as privacy and safety implications.
Dr Tania Mathias MP, the acting chair of the committee, said artificial intelligence is still in the early stages but expects it gain more momentum over the next few decades. However, she’s concluded that the government needs to start investigating now.
“Artificial intelligence has some way to go before we see systems and robots as portrayed in films like Star Wars. At present, ‘AI machines’ have narrow and specific roles, such as in voice-recognition or playing the board game Go,” she said in a statement.
“But science fiction is slowly becoming science fact, and robotics and AI look destined to play an increasing role in our lives over the coming decades.
“It is too soon to set down sector-wide regulations for this nascent field but it is vital that careful scrutiny of the ethical, legal and societal ramifications of artificially intelligent systems begins now,” continued the MP.”
Change is to be expected
Roger Bou, director, IoT Solutions World Congress, said it’s normal for technological revolutions to bring major change and we’ve been here before. He points out the invention of the wheel and the industrial revolution.
“Concerns about AI and robotics fundamentally changing – or eliminating entirely – some roles are realistic, but the fact of the matter is that every major technological change in the history of industry has had this effect,” he said.
“The invention of the wheel, around 3,500 BC, displaced some by requiring fewer labourers, but increasing the productivity of an individual worker. In the industrial revolution the UK’s great cottage industries like textiles were automated and subsequently decimated by factories.
“Production lines created new jobs for millions, but many skilled workers were also left high and dry. This cycle was repeated in the deindustrialisation that has left many communities feeling forgotten since the 1980s.
“Automation brought about by technologies such as AI, robotics, machine learning and IoT will also bring about profound change. But we need to give ourselves the best possible chance of understanding what these effects might be.
“In enterprise and industry, the ‘beta testing’ phase happens in testbeds – an area where we simulate real-world conditions to test these technologies.”
AI shouldn’t be feared
Mark Barrenechea, CEO of enterprise information management firm OpenText, believes that AI shouldn’t be feared and that it’ll have big benefits for businesses.
“This Digital Revolution will bring an increasing reliance on self-service technology, machine-to-machine communication (M2M) and artificial intelligence,” he said in response to today’s report.
“These will completely transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitalised through robotics and process automation.
“As many as 25 to 40 million jobs globally will disappear as a direct result of extreme automation and extreme connectivity, with the greatest losses occurring in white-collar office and administrative roles.
“We shouldn’t, however, fear this disruption. M2M communications will enable machines to process data and make decisions based on this data as we move toward more intelligent, cognitive systems.
“In many cases, the intelligence these systems deliver will be more accurate, immediate and safer than humanly capable.
He added: “The economic impact of digital is vast. Businesses that use the internet tend to grow more quickly, export two times as much as those that don’t, and create more than twice as many jobs.
“Yet many companies are off to a poor start on the journey toward digital transformation. While organisations are taking advantage of digital technologies, many economies remain digitally immature. This means that the ability to unlock the value of digital is far from being realised.”
Gerry Carr, CMO of UK-based Ravelin, which uses AI and machine-learning to detect and prevent fraud, added that it’s too early to look deeply at the consequences of an AI world.
‘As one of those start-ups actually working in AI (we use machine learning techniques detect fraudulent payments for online merchants), it feels premature to spend a lot of time looking at the ethical implications of an industry that is really new. For instance, the insistence on ‘transparency’. In practical terms for machine learning this means a choice of certain techniques over others, and can often means choosing a sub-optimal technique so it can be ‘explained’.
“Neural networks for instance are hard to interrogate. Is the committee suggesting the UK do not explore their capabilities? I doubt this is the committee’s intention but it might well be the result. Trying to impose barriers to discovery when we are only now beginning to understand what is possible seems needlessly cautious. What we can commend is the call for a strategy to equip the UK with the skills to develop and use artificial intelligence products and services.”