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UK not ready for robot uprising, MPs warn government

Science fiction is slowly becoming science fact, claims science and technology committee.

By James Nunns

The UK is not well prepared for how artificial intelligence (AI) and robots will fundamentally reshape the way people live and work, lawmakers have warned in a report.

The Science and Technology Committee urged the government to establish a commission for examining the social, ethical and legal implications of recent and potential developments in AI and robots.

The committee’s interim chairwoman Tania Mathias said: “At present, ‘AI machines’ have narrow and specific roles, such as in voice-recognition or playing the board game ‘Go’.

“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.”

The report cited driverless cars, supercomputers that help with medical diagnoses, and intelligent tutoring systems as examples of areas where AI is transforming day to day life, raising questions on the transparency of AI decision-making and privacy.

It also noted that the government’s leadership in AI has been lacking even though UK-startups and universities have made huge contributions to the field from a technological point of view.

The UK needs to prepare for AI and robots.

The UK needs to prepare for AI and robots.

Mathias said: “Some major technology companies – including Google and Amazon – have recently come together to form the ‘Partnership on AI’. While it is encouraging that the sector is thinking about the risks and benefits of AI, this does not absolve the Government of its responsibilities.”

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The committee called for the commission to be established in the Alan Turing Institute, based in the British Library, to find principles for governing the development and application of robots and AI, in addition to fostering public debate.

The report called on the government to ensure education in schools and training systems are up-to-date to cope with the workforce change.

Mathias concluded that it is disappointing the government has yet to publish its digital strategy on equipping UK workers with skills for the future.

Rob McCargow, artificial intelligence leader at PwC, said:

“In order for the UK to maintain a leading position, the Government must prioritise funding for research and development, especially after we leave the EU. Developing the right skills to ensure we can continue to innovate is important. One school of thought is to equip the workforce of the future purely with digital skills, but because AI has the potential to democratise access to technology and code for us, humans will need to focus on creativity and critical thinking.

“Whilst we can train people for the skills we think we’ll need in the future, we don’t know if those jobs will exist in the same way. It’s important to develop not only vocational, but also adaptive skills in the younger generation to support an agile approach to our next big skills challenge.”

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