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The government needs a robot strategy

Lynsey Barber
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Preview Of The Science Museum's 2017 Robots Exhibition
The government must help humans with digital skills to avoid being replaced by robots (Source: Getty)

The government needs a robot strategy to unpick the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) will have on society, including the loss of jobs, a group of leading MPs have warned.

The UK's reputation as a world leader in the field of robotics and AI technology should position the UK as a leader in examining the social and ethical impact of it, but a new report has found its success has been down to startups and research institutes. Government leadership, meanwhile, has been found lacking.

Politicians sitting on the science and technology committee have called for an AI committee to be set up as part of the Alan Turing Institute to examine the implications of the technology.

Read more: Top tech firms have formed an AI supergroup to make sure robots are good

"Robotics and AI look destined to play an increasing role in our lives over the coming decades," said Dr Tania Mathias, acting chair of the committee of MPs.

It is too soon to set down sector-wide regulations for this nascent field but it is vital that careful scrutiny of the ethical, legal and societal ramifications of artificially intelligent systems begins now.

Despite big tech companies such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft recently coming together to collaborate on "advancing public understanding" of the technology, the MPs said such work did not "absolve the government of its responsibilities" in monitoring the technology's advance.

The predicted impact on jobs of AI and automation, which is expected to make some jobs redundant but create others, should be on the government agenda.

“Concerns about machines 'taking jobs' and eliminating the need for human labour have persisted for centuries. Nevertheless it is conceivable that we will see AI technology creating new jobs over the coming decades while at the same time displacing others," said Mathias.

Read more: The UK is about to become a world leader in artificial intelligence

Since we cannot yet foresee exactly how these changes will play out, we must respond with a readiness to re-skill and up-skill. This requires a commitment by the Government to ensure that our education and training systems are flexible, so that they can adapt as opportunities and demands on the workforce change.

The group also called on the government to publish its long-awaited digital strategy, in which it's expected to detail how the workforce can improve skills to keep up with the changing world of work.

“The committee is right to call for greater government leadership in addressing the digital skills gap," said Tech UK head of big data and analytics Sue Daley.

This is one of the most urgent policy challenges we face today. The UK is losing £2bn per year due to the inability of employers to fill key digital skills roles...The scale of the growing gap over the next decade cannot be underestimated and must be closed if the UK is to realise the full benefits of AI.

It's the second call from MPs to publish its plans for the digital economy, which had been due to be laid out this summer. MPs on the Business Innovation and Skills Committee called for the report to include the impact of Brexit on UK tech firms and Britain's position as a leader in digital.

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