‘How development of AI might potentially affect our workforce’

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THE acronym AI is undoubtedly the latest buzzword expression, but how many people know exactly what it means?

AI stands for artificial intelligence. Nowadays it seems you cannot turn on the television or radio without hearing about AI.

Not so long ago,AI was a term only used by scientists when referring to the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines such as computer systems. Well it may surprise you to know scientific boffins have been discussing AI issues since the mid-1950s. The discussions these days centre on how many jobs carried out by humans can be performed – or even outperformed – by electronic machines.

So obviously, as my brief in Parliament as Shadow Minister for Business, Employment Rights and Levelling Up, embraces the Future of Work, I am particularly interested in how the development of AI policies might potentially affect our UK workforce.

Ever since Rishi Sunak announced in June that the UK would host the ‘first major global summit on artificial intelligence safety’ – the first AI Safety Summit on ‘Frontier AI systems to be held this week at the renowned Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire – officials in Westminster have been racing to assemble a guest list of tech bosses, policymakers and researchers worthy of an occasion which is intended to attract worldwide interest. The Prime Minister’s pledge to organise such a high-profile event inside six months was an attempt to position the UK as a leader in a new field. He warned that “humanity could lose control of AI completely”.

So we, as the official Opposition in Parliament, are wasting no time in looking at how the good elements that AI has to offer long-term can be maximised whilst making every effort to eliminate all that could be bad about a world in which AI has an increasing part.

We do so bearing in mind that many businesses already rely upon AI powered systems to make their choices in fully automated or semi-automated decision-making about matters such as task allocation, work scheduling, pay, progression and even in quasi-legal determinations in disciplinary proceedings. This has its own risks with many studies demonstrating that AI can lead to decision making that is discriminatory as well as there being concerns about the level of personal intrusion some software can bring.

As well as there being clear transparency and rules around how individuals are affected by AI we need to ensure that overall workforces derive benefits from an increased use of AI – the National Health Service may well be one major organisation to be encouraged to take advantage of AI-based technology, so too the Department for Education – while being rigorous in acknowledging any potential risk of using highly capable general purpose AI systems, the most advanced models of which are likely to be released next year.

The UK intelligence community (GCHQ and MI5) has issued multiple warnings over the potential national security risks of AI, as has the United States Government. Companies themselves are also warning of the potential risks their technology could pose, so the outcome of this summit is important just to try and begin to get international agreement on what the challenges are, we may need several more summits to reach agreement on what to do about it.

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