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AI regulation a ‘big challenge for policymakers’, says Lib Dem MP

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Image credit: Ms Jane Campbell via Shutterstock

The world can’t seem to stop talking about artificial intelligence, from the battle between Microsoft-backed ChatGPT and Google’s Bard to the flurry of generative AI startups being courted by investors.

As AI improves and becomes more ubiquitous, pressure is growing on governments to regulate the technology.

However, according to one Liberal Democrat MP, the people with the power to govern it might not truly understand it.

“Normal people — and I put myself in that box — who aren’t working with AI all the time or not working in the sector, don’t really have a full conception of what it can be and what it can do,” said Sarah Olney MP in an interview with UKTN.

Olney said that AI will continue to advance, in part due to “people in the tech industry who say transformation for transformation’s sake is always a great thing”.

But when it comes to protecting consumers and other industries it will remain the job of governments, she explained.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily the responsibility of people who are developing AI to balance that with other sectors’ interests, that’s very much the responsibility of the politicians and the policymakers,” Olney said. “That’s why it’s a decision that needs to be made in Westminster, but I think it’s very important that we do.”

She added that AI represents a huge opportunity to bolster the UK economy, once it makes the leap from being understood by AI developers to being understood by everyone.

“We want to support AI because that’s a future strategic industry for us. But at the moment, it’s sitting with the kind the tech firms and the software whiz kids who just do AI, and the future for AI is to be integrating it into everyday life,” Olney said.

The current government has for several years expressed an interest in bolstering the UK’s standing within the AI sector, as demonstrated by the publication of the National AI Strategy back in September 2021.

‘Policymakers are not AI brains’

Olney recently participated in a parliamentary debate on governing of AI. The debate concerned a proposal to remove the legal protection of copyright work in cases of it being used by generative AI software.

She described this proposal as an example of policymakers playing catchup to tech companies, demonstrating the challenge in trying to regulate AI.

“This no exceptions for copyright on creative work is already an example of AI only thinking about the interests of AI and we haven’t thought about how we actually integrate it yet,” Olney said. “And obviously, that’s something that once people became aware of it, we kind of went back and changed it.”

The Lib Dem MP added: “Policymakers like me, we’re not AI brains, we do need to wait and see what the potential impact is of this. We can’t predict the future.

“That’s the big challenge for policymakers, we don’t understand AI and we cannot predict what it might be able to do and what future applications it might develop.”

One sign of hope pointed out by the MP was the government’s recent decision to establish a new department focused on science and technology, which she said she was “quite supportive of”.

According to Olney, it will be one of the first “key tasks for that new department” to “get to grips with AI” and ultimately regulate it.