Artificial Intelligence is greater concern than climate change or terrorism, says new head of British Science Association

Artificial Intelligence is greater concern than climate change or terrorism, says new head of British Science Association

By Sarah Knapton, science editor 6 SEPTEMBER 2018 • 12:01AM

Artificial Intelligence is a greater concern than antibiotic resistance, climate change or terrorism for the future of Britain, the incoming president of the British Science Association has warned.

Jim Al-Khalili, Professor of physics and public engagement at the University of Surrey, said the unprecedented technological progress in AI was ‘happening too fast’ without proper scrutiny or regulation.

Prof Al-Khalili warned that the full threat to jobs and security had not been properly assessed and urged the government to urgently regulate.

Speaking at a briefing in London ahead of the British Science Festival in Hull next week, he said: “Until maybe a couple of years ago had I been asked what is the most pressing and important conversation we should be having about our future, I might have said climate change or one of the other big challenges facing humanity, such as terrorism, antimicrobial resistance, the threat of pandemics or world poverty.

“But today I am certain the most important conversation we should be having is about the future of AI. It will dominate what happens with all of these other issues for better or for worse.

“If Russian cyber hackers were able to meddle with the 2016 US elections, then what is stopping cyber terrorists from hacking into any future AI controlled power grids, transport systems, banks of military installations.

“Our government has a responsibility to protect society from potential threats and risks.”

Dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, artificial intelligence and robotics have improved exponentially in recent years with British companies like DeepMind leading the way in developing intricate neural networks previously thought impossible.

However last week the Bank of England warned that ‘large swathes’ of Britain’s workforce is now under threat of unemployment as robots and algorithms take over jobs.

Even industries previously thought immune, such as creative writing, are now being replaced by artificially intelligent programmes and earlier this month M&S announced it was replacing call centre staff with AI.

Prof Al-Khalili added: “Many people are becoming increasingly nervous about what they see as unchecked progress in AI.

“There are valid concerns about the widespread implementation of AI leading to an increase in inequality. Robotics and autonomous systems are predicted to bring about job losses, primarily affecting workers in low-skilled roles, and there is still little research on how the future effects of automation might vary across the UK.

“We are now seeing an unprecedented level of interest, investment and technological progress in the field, which many people, including myself, feel is happening too fast.”

A survey released this week by KPMG found that 59 per cent of Britons believe there should be more government regulation saying they were increasingly worried about data privacy and security.

KPMG is also calling for a ‘British Standard of Trust’ – a kite-mark for AI and data security.

Sue Daley, Head of AI at TechUK, which represents tech industries in Britain warned that it was time for ‘practical action’ to control artificial intelligence.

“AI has unprecedented potential to transform every aspect of our economy and society,” she said. “The UK is already a world leader in AI innovation in key sectors, such as health and finance.

“But we must keep pace if the UK is to remain at the forefront in the development and application of AI technologies.

“This means acting now to create the right conditions to drive AI uptake, build the next generation of AI experts and put in place the mechanisms for the UK to be a world leader in the development of, not only innovative, but also responsible and ethical AI. The time for practical action is now.”


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