It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, of which I am a member. I congratulate the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) on securing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee on allowing it.
I used to be a computer programmer, so I like tech— I need to put that out there. This debate on AI follows the categories of three types of people. I compare those three types of people to some friends that I used to go out partying with. One would get completely wasted; one would just sit in the corner and not want to get involved; and I would be the driver, so I would stay sober but enjoy the party. In this debate I like to think that I am staying sober, enjoying the party and making sure that everyone, myself included, gets home safely.
Could I invite my hon. Friend to inform the House which of us in this debate is the one who got wasted?
I do not think my friend would look kindly on me if I said their name. I always made sure they got home safely—that is the main thing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) told me the other day that she asked ChatGPT to write a letter from her to constituents on the dangers of AI. This is what ChatGPT churned out:
Thank you for reaching out to me with your concerns about large language model AI. I share your worries about the potential risks that this technology poses and I appreciate the opportunity to address them.
As you may be aware, large language model AI is an advanced form of artificial intelligence that can generate human-like text by training on vast amounts of data. While this technology has shown tremendous potential in various fields, including language translation, chatbots, and content creation, it also presents significant ethical, social, and legal challenges.
One of the main concerns about large language model AI is its potential to perpetuate biases and discrimination. If the data used to train these models are biased, the AI will learn and replicate those biases in its output, leading to harmful outcomes. Moreover, these models have the ability to generate highly realistic but entirely fake text, which could be used to spread disinformation, manipulate public opinion, and even harm individuals.
Therefore, I believe that the regulation and governance of large language model AI are essential to ensure that it is used ethically and responsibly. The UK government has been actively engaging with the tech industry, academia, and civil society to understand the implications of AI and develop a regulatory framework that promotes innovation while safeguarding human rights and values.”
That, to me, is an illustration of the fact that even AI itself recognises that there are some issues with AI. It shows that we need clear regulation, which we do not quite have at the moment. There is still time for the Government’s White Paper to change that, and I hope that debates of this kind will enable change to happen.
Many Members have referred to the use of AI for medical advances, and quantum computers will certainly enable medicines and medical solutions to be found much more quickly. However, as I said when evidence was being given to the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, even something as simple as body mass index, which is used in the medical world, is a flawed measurement. The use of BMI in the building of AI will integrate that bias into anything that the AI produces. Members may not be aware that the BMI scale was created not by a doctor but by an astronomer and mathematician in the 1800s. What he was trying to do was identify l’homme moyen—the average man—in statistical terms. The scale was never meant to be used in the medical world in the way that it is. People can be prevented from having certain medical procedures if their BMI is too high. The Committee was given no evidence that we would rule out, or mitigate, a flawed system such as BMI in the medical profession and the medical world. We should be worried about this, because in 10 or 20 years’ time it will be too late to explain that BMI was always discriminatory against women, Asian men and black people. It is important for us to get this right now.
I recognise the huge benefits that AI can have, but I want to stress the need to stay sober and recognise the huge risks as well. When we ask certain organisations where they get their data from, the response is very opaque: they do not tell us where they are getting their data from. I understand that some of them get their mass data scraping from sites such as Reddit, which is not really where people would go to become informed on many things.
If we do not take this seriously, we will be automating discrimination. It will become so easy just to accept what the system is telling us, and people who are already marginalised will become further marginalised. Many, if not most, AI-powered systems have been shown to contain bias, whether against people of colour, women, people with disabilities or those with other protected characteristics. For instance, in the case of passport
applications, the system keeps on saying that a person’s eyes are closed when in fact they have a disability. We must ensure that we measure the impact on the public’s rights and freedoms alongside the advances in AI. We cannot become too carried away—or drunk—with all the benefits, without thinking about everything else.
At the beginning, I thought it reasonable for the Government to say, “We will just expand legislation that we already have,” but when the Committee was taking evidence, I realised that we need to go a great deal further—that we need something like a digital Bill of Rights so that people understand and know their rights, and so that those rights are protected. At the moment, that is not the case.
There was a really stark example when we heard some information in regard to musicians, music and our voices. Our voices are currently not protected, so with the advancements of deepfake, anybody in this House can have their voice attached to something using deepfake and we would have no legal recourse, because at the moment our voices are not protected. I believe that we need a digital Bill of Rights that would outlaw the most dangerous uses of AI, which should have no place in a real democracy.
The Government should commit to strengthening the rights of the public so that they know what is AI-generated or whether facial recognition—the digital imprint of their face—is being used in any way. We know, for instance, that the Met police have on file millions of people’s images—innocent people—that should not be there. Those images should be taken off the police database. If an innocent person’s face is on the database and, at some point, that is put on a watch list, the domino effect means that they could be accused of doing something they have not done.
The UK’s approach to AI currently diverges from that of our closest trading partners, and I find that quite strange. It is not a good thing and there is an apparent trade-off between progress and safety. I think we should always err on the side of safety and ethics. Progress will always happen; we cannot stop progress. Companies will always invest in AI. It is the future, so we do not have to worry about that—people will run away with that. What we have to do is ensure that we protect people’s safety, because otherwise, instead of being industry leaders in the UK, we will be known as the country that has shoddy or poor practices. Nobody really wants that.
There are countries that are outlawing how facial recognition is used, for instance, but we are not doing that in the UK, so we are increasingly looking like the outlier in this discussion and protection around AI. Government’s first job is to protect their citizens, so we should protect citizens now from the dangers of AI.
Harms are already arising from AI. The Government’s recently published White Paper takes the view that strong, clear protections are simply not needed. I think the Government are wrong on that. Strong, clear protections are most definitely needed—and needed now. Even if the Government just catch up with what is happening in Europe and the US, that would be more than we are doing at the moment. We need new, legally binding regulations.
The White Paper currently has plans to water down data rights and data protection. The Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill paints an alarming picture. It will redefine what counts as personal data.
All these things have been put in place piecemeal to ensure that personal data is protected. If we lower the protection in the definition of what is personal data, that will mean that any company can use our personal data for anything it wants and we will have very limited recourse to stop that. At the end of the day, our personal data is ultimately what powers many AI systems, and it will be left ripe for exploitation and abuse. The proposals are woefully inadequate.
The scale of the challenge is vast, but instead of reining in this technology, the Government’s approach is to let it off the leash, and that is problematic. When we received evidence from a representative from the Met police, she said that she has nothing to hide so what is the problem, for instance, in having the fingerprint, if you like, of her face everywhere that she goes? I am sure that we all have either curtains or blinds in our houses. If we are not doing anything illegal, why have curtains or blinds? Why not just let everyone look into our house? Most abuse happens in the home so, by the same argument, surely allowing everyone to look into each other’s houses would eliminate a lot of abuse.
In our country we have the right to privacy, and people should have that right. Our digital fingerprints should not be taken without our consent, as we have policing by consent. The Met’s use of live facial recognition and retrospective facial recognition is worrying. I had a meeting with Mark Rowley the other day and, to be honest, he did not really understand the implications, which is a worry.
Like many people, I could easily get carried away and get drunk with this AI debate, but I am the driver. I need to stay sober to make sure everyone gets home safely.