20 Aug 2018

Artificial Intelligence – emerging technology, emerging threat

The concept of artificial intelligence being deployed by the military may for many conjure up images from science fiction blockbuster movies, but technological advances in AI provide significant opportunities for the Ministry of Defence. 

For the defence industry, the fundamental need to do more with less in terms of budget and manpower means that the adoption of AI presents a viable solution to these demands. As it looks to exploit the latest technological advancements in the commercial markets, the Ministry of Defence will be hoping that the significant financial investment set to be poured into AI research in the coming years will place Britain at the vanguard of this technology. 

A recent report published by the House of Lords Select Committee found that Britain is primed to take on a world-leading role in developing artificial intelligence as we advance into the 21st century. 

Following on the heels of the Select Committee’s findings, the UK Government and the AI sector have agreed a Sector Deal to boost the UK’s global position as a leader in developing AI technologies. The deal is worth almost £1 billion, including almost £300 million of private investment into the UK sector. 

Building on the commitment made in the Government’s Industrial Strategy and its AI Grand Challenge, the deal marks the first phase of a major innovation-focused investment drive in AI which aims to help the UK seize the £232 billion opportunity AI offers the UK economy by 2030. 

The potential AI can unlock is not, however, without risk. The report warns its development “brings with it a host of opportunities, but also risks and challenges, and how the UK chooses to respond to these will have widespread implications for many years to come”. 

Elon Musk, Chief Executive of Tesla and SpaceX, has been vocal about his fears of competition between nations seeking AI superiority escalating to the level of another world war. His fears were no doubt heightened by comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who noted: “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” 

While this may seem somewhat alarmist, the speed at which technology is advancing means the need to regulate AI is clear. 

The collection of mass data and how it can be used for nefarious purposes has dominated the news over the past several months. Tomorrow’s automated systems need to ensure that reasonable access to data is maintained without compromising people’s right to privacy. 

The report calls for Britain’s strategy to be built around the ethical use of AI. As Chairman of the Committee, Lord Clement-Jones, explains: “The UK has a unique opportunity to shape AI positively for the public’s benefit and to lead the international community in AI’s ethical development, rather than passively accept its consequences. 

“The UK contains leading AI companies, a dynamic academic research culture and a vigorous start-up ecosystem as well as a host of legal, ethical, financial and linguistic strengths. We should make the most of this environment, but it is essential that ethics take centre stage in AI’s development and use.” 

Key to preventing the misuse of personal information is the development of a number of frameworks and mechanisms such as data portability and data trusts. Individuals should also be given greater personal control over their data, and the way in which it is used.  

The report recommends large companies responsible for the accumulation of significant quantities of data must be prevented from becoming too powerful, with the Competition and Markets Authority tasked with reviewing the use and potential monopolisation of data. Companies must also be able to demonstrate the functionality of their systems – or else risk the intervention of regulators, preventing them from operating in ‘significant and sensitive areas’ of society. 

The adoption of AI is likely to change the employment landscape, with a number of jobs disappearing; conversely, it will assuredly see the creation of new, currently unknown jobs. In order to counteract any negative impact of new AI technologies, significant government investment will be required in skills and training to increase productivity growth. 

Training initiatives should be developed in partnership with industry, and the next generation introduced to the concept of working with and using AI from an early age via the national curriculum. 

Despite what on the surface seems like a solution to stalling economic growth and concerns over a lack of skilled workers, the report warns that AI should not be viewed as “a general panacea for the UK’s wider economic issues” with more research required to consider how AI can be used to raise productivity. 

Lord Clement-Jones commented: “AI is not without its risks and the adoption of the principles proposed by the Committee will help to mitigate these. An ethical approach ensures the public trusts this technology and sees the benefits of using it. It will also prepare them to challenge its misuse. 

“We want to make sure that this country remains a cutting-edge place to research and develop this exciting technology. We’ve asked whether the UK is ready, willing and able to take advantage of AI. With our recommendations, it will be.” 

As part of the AI Sector Deal, the world’s first Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation will be established to ensure all AI developments in Britain are conducted to the highest ethical standards. 

The £9 million centre will address the challenges posed by the adoption of AI and advise on the measures needed to enable and ensure safe, ethical and innovative uses of data-driven technologies, while helping protect consumers. 

Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: “As with all innovation there is also the potential for misuse which puts the whole sector under scrutiny and undermines public confidence. That is why we are establishing a new world-leading body, to ensure the ethical use of data in AI applications for the benefit of all.” 

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