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The House of Lords is ideally placed to answer the challenges posed by AI

(Alamy)

3 min read

The United Kingdom faces profound challenges which will outlast the lifespan of any government decades into the future.

Among these are climate change; the rise of China; the impact of demographic change and international migration; and the future of health and social care.

The House of Lords is ideally-placed to address these issues and to put policy proposals to the test with an eye firmly on the long-term. 

How can we prevent AI’s misuse by criminals, terrorists and hostile powers?

Peers are not under the same pressures as MPs from the electoral cycle and the 24-hour news agenda. Our committees cut across the departmental silos of Whitehall.

We have some of the country’s most eminent thinkers, drawn from the full range of disciplines, to train their minds on the thorniest questions facing mankind. Top of the list of those topics now is artificial intelligence (AI).

After years in which the issue flew under the radar, the launch of powerful AI chat services – and the appearance of “deepfake” images like the Pope in a puffa jacket – forces us to confront the questions it raises, some of which are deeply troubling.

Could AI wipe out millions of jobs? Could it undermine trust by flooding the public sphere with convincing untruths? 

How can we fairly share the proceeds from the productivity gains it promises? Do we need to rethink the way we educate young people? 

How can we prevent AI’s misuse by criminals, terrorists and hostile powers? And most chillingly, how do we ensure that the goals of superintelligent computers are aligned with the values of our human civilisation?

These are questions being asked not by Luddite opponents of progress, but by the very people at the cutting edge of tech, including Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who says worries about AI keep him awake at night.

An open letter, signed by tech luminaries including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, called for a six-month moratorium for consideration of AI’s implications for society.

Berkeley professor Stuart Russell – who I invited to speak to peers last year in Westminster – has said: “It’s in no country’s interest for any country to develop and release AI systems we cannot control.”

One proposal is for a CERN-style international institution where developers can work on the most powerful and autonomous systems in conditions of strict security, with results commercialised only after being proven safe.
Of course these warnings must not blind us to the opportunities offered by the new technology.

The government’s recent white paper set out plans to “unleash the benefits of AI”. And Jeremy Hunt has rightly said the UK cannot simply “opt out”– even after an AI bot confidently told him that he was not chancellor and Rishi Sunak was.

Lords have not been backward in addressing these issues. We convened an AI committee as long ago as 2017. Last year, peers investigating AI in the creative industries met robot artist Ai-Da. And we now have a special inquiry into the technology’s use in weapons systems.

With experts on hand from the worlds of technology, defence, intelligence, science, education, ethics, business and workplace rights, the Lords are well-placed to consider how legislation can make AI’s deployment as benign as possible for humankind.

The issue highlights the House’s need for the right blend of expertise and political judgement to address new policy challenges. I have urged Mr Sunak to reconsider the cap limiting the House of Lords Appointments Commission to two recommendations of independent peers annually, to allow the recruitment of experts in the fields which will shape our future. 

Lord McFall of Alcluith, Lord Speaker of the House of Lords

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