Sunday 23 October 2016

We must prepare better for the rise of the robots, say MPs

Published 12/10/2016 | 00:29

Robots will soon be part of everyday life but too little thought has been given to the ethical and social implications, say MPs
Robots will soon be part of everyday life but too little thought has been given to the ethical and social implications, say MPs

Artificial intelligence is set to "fundamentally" change the way people live and work but the government is failing to prepare for the transformation, MPs have warned.

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Technological advances such as driverless cars and supercomputers that can help doctors with medical diagnosis mean science fiction is becoming science fact, according to a report.

But although there is "some way to go before we see systems and robots as portrayed in films like Star Wars", the government's role in preparing for the change is "lacking", the Science and Technology Committee says.

Tania Mathias, acting chairwoman of the committee, warned: "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."

MPs found the Government does not have a strategy for developing the new skills workers will need to succeed as the use of AI increases.

The social and ethical problems it throws up must also be planned for, the committee warned. It highlighted how Google's photo app, which automatically labelled pictures, was reported to have classified images of black people as gorillas and called for action to be taken to stop discrimination being accidentally being built in to AI systems.

The committee also urged the government to set up a commission on artificial intelligence to look at the potential problems the science could create.

Dr Mathias said: " Government leadership in the fields of robotics and AI has been lacking. 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. It should establish a commission on artificial intelligence to identify principles for governing the development and application of AI, and to foster public debate.

" Concerns about machines taking jobs and eliminating the need for human labour have persisted for centuries. Nevertheless, it is conceivable that we will see AI technology creating new jobs over the coming decades while at the same time displacing others.

"Since we cannot yet foresee exactly how these changes will play out, we must respond with a readiness to reskill and upskill.

"This requires a commitment by the Government to ensure that our education and training systems are flexible, so that they can adapt as opportunities and demands on the workforce change.

"It is disappointing that the Government has still not published its digital strategy and set out its plans for equipping the future workforce with the digital skills we will need."

Press Association

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