‘Deeper understanding’ of AI risks is needed before new laws – minister

The Government has said it wants a “deeper understanding of the specific risks” of artificial intelligence (AI) before proposing any new laws to regulate the sector.

Technology minister Viscount Camrose said there is a “real advantage to waiting for the right moment” rather than moving quicker and risking “legislating too narrowly”.

His remarks came as peers pressed for the Government to support the Artificial Intelligence (Regulation) Bill.

A new body, known as the AI Authority, would be established under the Bill tabled by Conservative peer Lord Holmes of Richmond.

Security, fairness, accountability and transparency are among the principles that the AI Authority must take into consideration, according to the Bill.

The Government believes a non-statutory approach provides “critical adaptability” but has pledged to keep it under review.

Lord Holmes said: “It’s clear when it comes to artificial intelligence it’s time to legislate, it’s time to lead and we know what we need to do, we know what we need to know to legislate.

“We know the impact AI is already having on our creatives, on our IP (intellectual property), on our copyright across all of that important part of our economy.”

Viscount Camrose said the Government has continued to make progress on its regulatory approach to AI, including moves to provide “continuous examination” of the risks.

He said: “On legislation specifically, the Government is not ruling out new law in future but we believe our non-statutory approach is still the right approach for now while we continue to build the understanding needed to inform any future legislation based on a more comprehensive assessment of the benefits and risks of this fast-evolving technology.

“While the Government does not support the Bill, I hope noble Lords will continue to contribute their valuable expertise in this area as our regulatory approach evolves.”

Ulster Unionist Party peer Lord Empey said he feared the Government was “losing momentum” on the issue rather than maintaining its push to be a world leader.

He said: “It does seem to me – with the minister’s statement – that we have slipped back now, the European Union has set out its stall and, if we’re not going to have the legislative framework, then I think we need to know that.

“And I just hope the Government will reflect that the position the Prime Minister adopted at the beginning of this process, I thought, was innovative, positive and good for the United Kingdom as a whole, but I fear that the loss of momentum in fact means we will be slipping back down at a very rapid rate.”

Viscount Camrose said he did not accept the characterisation of a loss of momentum and pointed to the UK co-hosting the forthcoming AI Seoul Summit.

He said: “I think moving very, very quickly to legislation – it’s always been the Government’s position that it’s better to have a deeper understanding of the specific risks of AI across each sector and across all sectors before legislating too narrowly, and that there’s a real advantage to waiting for the right moment to have judicious legislation that addresses specific risks rather than blanket legislation that goes to all of them.”

The Bill received a third reading in the Lords and will now seek to secure time in the House of Commons to be considered further.

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