In 2017, the House of Lords convened a Select Committee on artificial intelligence. The Report of Session 2017-19 was published last month, summarising its inquiry into whether the UK is "ready, willing and able" to harness the opportunities offered by AI and support the companies that are developing it.
The report was largely welcomed by representatives of three AI startups at a recent panel on AI. Antoine Amann, founder and CEO of Echobox, a company that automates social media posts, voiced his view that the government is acknowledging the importance of this new branch of technology.
He said: "By writing this report, the government obviously thinks that AI is a big topic right now and we need to do something.”
One of the final chapters of the report looked at the ways in which commercial AI organisations have created codes of ethics and ethics boards, and discussed the way that government could assist with co-ordination and awareness of a common AI code of practice that companies sign up to.
The conclusion suggested five overarching principles:
"AI is helping automate boring human jobs, leading to real creativity."
In response to this, Olga Egorsheva, founder of crowd-sourced stock photography platform Lobster, said that AI is very much helping to automate boring human jobs, leading the way to real creativity. She gave the example of how AI is used in her company to automate the search for one certain type of image among millions of others.
In regard to concerns that people may have about AI, she said it is important that the government does not create or spread fear unnecessarily. She said: “People raise concerns and then really strict and fast action follows. The government should create a really practical framework for all of us to work in. As a business owner, I will be more than happy to have it. For now we are just trying to do good.”
“This report is a nice read, but it doesn’t really mean much.”
Amann said that reports such as this can either be very broad and equally meaningless, or they can be quite specific and also quite detrimental. With specific reference to this report, Amann said: “It has been kept very broad and it’s a nice read, everything makes sense. But, at the same time, it doesn’t really mean much.”
He said that the recommendations all make sense as, “you would want to build things that help humanity.” However, these wide-reaching suggestions are difficult to apply to AI. “The bigger point is that most applications of AI today are for very specific tasks. When we get to the point where there is a more general AI that can do more creative and different tasks, then reports like this will become a bit more interesting.”
“It’s OK to have a broad definition, but I want concrete actions."
Dr Aygul Zagidullina, director of social media for MotaWord, a translation platform for businesses, called for the government to make specific moves towards supporting AI companies. She said: “It’s OK to have a broad definition, but I want concrete actions. I want specific steps of where we will see support from government.”
The writers of the report stated that the AI industry in the UK has developed without much, if any, government intervention and recognises that it faces serious challenges in the future. It said: “The AI development sector has flourished largely without attempts by the Government to determine its shape or direction. This has resulted in a flexible and innovative grassroots start-up culture.” The authors also stated that AI offers unpredictable opportunities and the investment environment for AI must be able to cope with that uncertainty and take the required risks.
Egorsheva, Amann and Zagidullina were speaking at a panel organised by The AI Talks.