Matt Warman MPMember of Parliament for Boston and Skegness
Former Digital Minister, Matt Warman discusses his recent parliamentary debate on AI.
Artificial intelligence is the issue of our age. It will shape how we see the world around us, and it will shape almost every aspect of daily life in the years to come. It will create jobs; it will change jobs and it will – yes – destroy jobs.
So, it’s amazing therefore to consider that it was only so very recently that parliament held a general debate on artificial intelligence. Granted by the backbench business committee this was an opportunity that I sought in order to allow parliamentarians to put forward a range of views across the whole gamut of what might be affected. Supported by multiple Select Committee chairs I hoped to provide, and it delivered, a view that was more detailed than some shorter debates had previously allowed. Crucially it also allowed the industry to see where parliamentarians who contributed directly stood on a host of vital issues.
My starting point for artificial intelligence is that it is in many ways simply another tool that will be used to augment existing jobs, existing leisure activities and our own daily lives. In that sense it’s perhaps not as new as many people think – but the extent and speed with which it will have an impact is a truly new factor.
In the debate, I sought to put forward three proposals: the first is that we should not reinvent the wheel. There is no need to see artificial intelligence as something that creates a whole gamut of new offences. For instance, it is already the case that discrimination on the grounds of age or sex is illegal when it comes to employment. So, if an employer uses an AI tool to augment their HR department it is still illegal for them to discriminate; there can be no excuse on the grounds that AI is somehow outside human control, or at least not yet. So much of our attitude to AI should be about defending our existing values from those who might seek to say new tools change the landscape.
Secondly there will be new loopholes created by artificial intelligence. Just as essentially the invention of the mobile phone precipitated the need to create an offence of upskirting, so too there will be equivalent loopholes for artificial intelligence. The need to close those loopholes is urgent and government must work on them rapidly.
Finally, though there are a limited number of genuinely new problems created by artificial intelligence – it’s easy to say for instance that previous industrial revolutions allowed ‘only’ greater speed of travel – but in practise we know that bringing communities within hours rather than days of each other changed those communities in fundamental ways. Artificial intelligence will have an equivalent effect, some of which we cannot yet know.
In practise that means that it is essential to do two things: the first is to map where in terms of sectors of the economy and parts of the country AI will have the greatest impact on jobs. Some companies already begun some of this work working with large private sector employers, but government has a vital role to play in smoothing the hump of transition to new jobs. Secondly, government must look to investigate what the skills that we need are in order to fully take advantage of artificial intelligence. The UK is currently, after only America and China, the largest player in the world of AI and preserving that comes potentially at a huge advantage to UK PLC.
So, government’s main role must be to close the loopholes, furnish the population with the skills they need and to address the challenges AI will pose, in a way that promotes Britain’s liberal values and the innovative culture that will encourage growth. In doing that, Britain will be able to surf a new wave and generate the jobs and the economy that we need to thrive. Fail, and others will do it at our expense.