Academics advise UK Parliament against implementing general AI law

Maria Nikolova

The Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence kicked off its autumn program of public evidence sessions by talking to three academics about the ‘big picture’ issues associated with AI.

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The UK Parliament has been showing its interest in the area of artificial intelligence (AI) for a while. A number of inquiries and consultations have been launched, including ones on the necessity to regulate AI  and on the use of algorithms in decision-making.

Earlier this week, the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence started its autumn program of public evidence sessions by talking to three experts about the ‘big picture’ issues associated with AI:

  • Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Professor of Computer Science, University of Southampton, and chair of the soon to be published review into artificial intelligence on behalf of the Government;
  • Professor Nick Bostrom, Director, Future of Humanity Institute;
  • Professor Michael Wooldridge, Head of Department and Professor of Computer Science, University of Oxford.

The trio gave evidence to the Committee on Tuesday. (You can view the full recording of the session on the UK Parliament TV).

Among the many questions raised during the discussion was the question of the progress made by AI over the recent years. Professor Michael Wooldridge had to explain the difference between “general AI” and “narrow AI”, stressing that general AI has not seen much of an actual progress.

“General AI is the big dream of AI. It’s the dream that you see in Hollywood, it’s the dream of conscious machines, machines that are self-aware, that may have conversations like we are having right now. And that’s a very nebulous goal. There hasn’t been any substantial progress in general AI”, Professor Michael Wooldridge said.

“All the progress in AI over the last decade which is real and substantial and exciting has been in narrow AI, which is on very narrowly focused tasks like recognizing faces”, Professor Michael Wooldridge explained.

Considering the advances of machine learning and the building of more sophisticated computer agents, the question of the possible impact of AI on the labor market was raised.

Professor Dame Wendy Hall stressed that “As with all big technological revolutions, overall, overtime, there will be more jobs created than lost. But that does not help the people whose jobs are going to be lost in the short term – anyone whose job is repetitive and can be replaced by some form of automation. That job is likely to go in the next 10-20 years”.

Asked what should be done by the lawmakers to mitigate any negative impact by AI on the labour market, she replied:

“What we should be doing in social reform is taking the opportunity to see what are the jobs that need people to do them and value these jobs.”

This echoes the stance of a number of financial services companies that have already adopted AI solutions. For instance, the CEO of Nordnet, which has recently hired a digital employee, explained that such a move would enable the human staff to do what humans do best.

In the European Union, there has been a lot of talk around the threat that AI presents to the labor market. In February this year, the European Parliament approved a resolution on robotics, with particular concerns voiced about job losses and ethical issues such as responsibility for any law violations committed by AI agents.

The problem about ethics and the possibility to somehow regulate AI was raised during the discussion on Tuesday too. The experts agreed that the necessary codes of practice already exist in numerous areas, but broader guidelines were dubbed not necessary.

Professor Michael Wooldridge said:

“AI-specific ethical guidelines, I’m not convinced is something that is particularly necessary. Nor AI law. Looking at specific areas – the data protection legislation that we have, would make sense but a general AI law – no.”

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