A House of Lords report on “AI in the UK” has urged development of a national policy framework to support strategic and commercial leadership by the country in AI, amid concern by some respondents to the Lords’ consultation that UK-based AI start-ups are being acquired too early in their development cycle.
Recent acquisitions of DeepMind, VocalIQ, Swiftkey, and Magic Pony, by Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter respectively, point to the success of UK start-ups in this sector, the Royal Society highlighted in its response to the Lords’ consultation. Yet such success comes with a cost, the Academy added.
Voicing disquiet at early-stage acquisitions by foreign-owned companies, it added: “They reinforce the sense that the UK environment and investor expectations encourage the sale of technologies and technology companies before they have reached their full potential.”
Responding, the Lords concluded: “To ensure that AI start-ups in the United Kingdom have the opportunity to scale up, without having to look for off-shore investment, we recommend that a proportion of the £2.5 billion investment fund at the British Business Bank… be reserved as an AI growth fund for SMEs with a substantive AI component, and be specifically targeted at enabling such companies to scale up.”
The Road to Ethical AI
Witnesses to the Lords report included integrated payments provider Sage, who noted: “Without a clear AI strategy for social good the huge potential benefits of AI will not be felt across society at large. It is clear to us that with the Government being so actively engaged with AI, and the number of institutes that could now possibly be involved in shaping and developing AI policy, that a clear framework is required.”
The House of Lords said the responsibility for development of a framework must be clearly defined: “It must [also] be clear within Government who is responsible around the Cabinet table for the direction and ownership of this framework and the AI-related policies which fall within it.”
But what are the considerations, and should the delivery of the framework be left in the hands of the Government or those operating the technology?
Despite the Committee believing the Government should be responsible for the direction the framework takes, it comes to question whether it should fall more to the hands of the industry as they know the technology inside out.
“To influence and control an AI instance, its creator can program an ‘operating principle’ to replicate a chosen moral framework. This has potential to limit or stop the AI from what is considered ‘doing harm’. Human moral frameworks are, however, dynamic,” Matt Walmsley, EMEA Director at Vectra, said. “This raises the question of who should choose and revise these ‘morals’ – should it be the user, the AI’s creator, the government or another legislative body?”
“If AI ‘learns’ via observations, then the data set becomes fundamental to the outcome, and any bias on the input will certainly affect the algorithmic models created, and the output behaviour as a result,” Walmsley said.
Embedding AI in Education
Developing digital skills has been a long talked-about subject, as the digital skills gap continues to grow, with more organisations beginning to realise the need for a better education around AI skills and developments.
Hammond’s Autumn Budget focused on digital skills, encouraging development by devoting a total of £500 million to STEM skills.
The report outlined the UK needs to set the foundations for adopting AI from an earlier point, to ensure knowledge is nurtured and develops accordingly.
Experts across both the industry and the education system agreed with the Lords Committee’s recommendations as aspiring students prepare for future careers.
“AI will be a key driver in improving worker productivity both in UK public and private sectors. It will also enable the UK to exploit vital data in areas such as financial services, healthcare and transportation,” Roger Camrass, Professor at The University of Surrey, told CBR. “Whichever sector you care to look at, data science and associated AI should become core disciplines and this has profound implications for students now preparing for their careers and the universities that are responsible for their education.”
Kriti Sharma, VP of AI at Sage, told CBR that the key to AI success is to embed AI skills into education and working practices to help remove the overwhelming elements AI technology can most.
“As we approach this cross road we need to ensure industry is ready to pivot and take advantage of the productivity gains that will be delivered through the automation of mundane, repetitive tasks – using AI to free businesses up to focus on what’s important,” Sharma said. “I welcome the positive, comprehensive recommendations presented in today’s report. Now is the time for government and business to act.”
To bring a successful delivery of AI to the UK, industry leaders believe that collaboration is the key to success. Without human input, the technology will not leverage and drive forward the desired outcomes.
“Today’s report from the House of Lords is a reminder that AI must work for everyone and have high ethical standards at its core,” Melissa Di Donato, Chief Revenue Officer, SAP Cloud ERP, said. “To deliver benefits for all, AI must be implemented across society and into business with the human impact front and centre.”
Only through such an approach, can it manage highly sensitive data, inspire employees and help business meet the complex needs of their customers. If the UK strives to be a world leader in AI technology, we collectively as a nation have a responsibility to ensure we have control over engines in the future.”
Other ways to push forward success in AI include more incentives must be put in place by the Government.
“To guarantee that companies developing AI can continue to thrive in the UK, we recommend that the Government review the existing incentives for businesses operating in the UK who are working on artificial intelligence products, and ensure that they are adequate, properly promoted to companies, and designed to assist SMEs wherever possible,” the Report said.