The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Steven Croft, spoke in the House of Lords yesterday as the House debated the report from the Select Committee on ‘Artificial Intelligence AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?’

“My Lords it was pleasure to serve as part of your Lordships Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence. I join with others in paying tribute to the expertise and skill of our chair, Lord Clement Jones and our excellent staff and advisors.

At the beginning of my engagement with AI, what kept me awake at night was the prospect of what AI might mean for the future: the advent of conscious machines, killer robots and artificial general intelligence. We are a generation away and probably more from those risks.

What kept me awake at night as the enquiry got underway were the possibilities and risks of AI in the present. AI is already reshaping political life, employment, education, healthcare, the economy, entertainment, the professions and commerce.

AI is routinely used to drive micro advertising in political debate reshaping our political discourse. The disruption in the jobs market will fall disproportionately across the country. In my former diocese of Sheffield, the new industries in the former coalfields major on warehousing and call centres. As Lord Hollick has said a massive proportion of those jobs will go in the next decade.

Use of the technology has already outstripped public awareness and debate by a considerable margin.

My stock image for the use of artificial intelligence has shifted from the terminator robot beloved of headline writers to the supermarket loyalty card silently collecting data which is collected, often sold on and used in covert ways. The benefits of AI are significant. The risks are very real. They are both a present reality. The dangers of a disruption of public trust are significant.

The experts from every sector from whom we took evidence were very clear on the need for a stronger ethical strand to the UK’s development and deployment of narrow artificial intelligence. In proposing our AI code the Committee was responding to multiple requests from across the sector for a stronger role for government and civil society in these debates not necessarily to regulate but to benchmark and encourage good practice and give a stronger voice to citizens and consumers.

Stephen Cave, Director of the Leverhulme Centre in the University of Cambridge said at the launch of the report: “The tech entrepreneur mantra of the last decade was ‘move fast and break things’. But some things are too important to be broken: like democracy, or equality, or social cohesion”.

Our report puts forward five overarching principles for an AI code which it would be good to see the government affirm: the common good and benefit of humanity not the profit of the few. Let’s see the power of AI directed to the great problems of the age. Intelligibility and fairness in the deployment of AI. We need to know when we are interacting with machines always. The protection of data rights and privacy which is vital to human flourishing. The right to the best education for all to flourish in the machine age. This is the only antidote to the uneven and disruptive effects of AI on the workplace. The need to ensure that machines are not given the autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive human beings.

I fully support the government’s aim to see the UK as a global leader in the ethics of artificial intelligence. I fully support the steps taken already especially in the establishing of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

We need a vigorous public debate on what it means to be human in the age of artificial intelligence. We need a vigorous debate on what it means to live well with emerging technology. We need to amplify the voice and influence of civil society. After climate change, the question of how we live well with technology is one of the most urgent questions of the age.

Can the minister tell the House in his response that the motto of Her Majesty’s government remains to move fast and mend things.”

Steven Croft