Making Law for Thinking Machines? Start with the Guns

The Bank of England‘s warning that the pace of artificial intelligence development now threatens 15m UK jobs has prompted calls for political intervention.

According to scientists and legal experts, responding to the bank’s warning this November,  there is now an urgent need for the development of intelligent algorithms to be put on the political agenda.

– A lot of sceptics have said that this is the same sort of disruption that we have from technology in the Industrial Revolution, the thing then it was only in the agricultural sector. This is happening now and across the board and that’s the difference. That’s why a lot of us need to start talking about this now. The Government needs to pick up on this and put it on the political agenda and look at regulatory issues, said Chrissie Lightfoot, a patent lawyer and author, who debated fears over unemployment caused by AI at London’s Science Museum last October.

Top of the agenda as far as Lightfoot is concerned is the economic impact if AI cuts large amounts of jobs and the incomes from people,  how will they make a living and what will they do, a concern that Professor Toby Walsh, an expert in AI at Australia’s University of New South Wales and a prominent campaigner against the use of AI in military weapons, says is justified and one that needs to be urgently considered.

– There is going to be a fundamental change in the economy and how we work. We are already seeing increasing inequalities happening. The challenge is how do we ensure that all us benefit from this rising tide and not just the people who own the robots.

– There are some real societal issues that we need to confront. Society as a whole has to decide where we are going to go.

Though Professor Walsh and fellow AI expert Murray Shanahan, Professor of Cognitive Robotics at London’s Imperial College were wary of calls for regulation of the sector, which they said, would inhibit research. According to Professor Walsh scientists working in AI have already started to exercise a degree of self-control over the exploitation of the discoveries being made in AI the areas that need to be focussed on are the ramifications of the technology.

A point underlined by Professor Shanahan:

– It’s premature to start discussing regulations for AI research in general but there are a lot related areas where it make sense. It certainly makes sense to talk about regulation for autonomous weapons.

– It makes sense to talk about self-driving cars and it makes sense to look at the privacy issues that come with personal assistants based on AI that make use of our private data.

All concerns that point to an urgent need for an informed political debate on AI as the potential now exists for huge amounts of power to be concentrated the technology companies developing the robots.