LONDON — Forget about robot clergy.
One of Britains top clergymen has a few words of advice for leaders as they map out a grand strategy for developing artificial intelligence after Brexit: Keep human beings front and center, and dont follow the Silicon Valley route.
Bishop of Oxford Steven Croft told POLITICO that neither Silicon Valley, with its “philosophy of extreme libertarianism and maximum freedom,” nor China, with its “extremely divergent approach” on personal data, should be seen as models for Britain to follow on innovation.
Instead, London should continue to take its own road by putting ethics and the human being at the center of its strategic thinking on technology in the post-Brexit era.
“Because the actual application of artificial intelligence has outstripped public awareness of what artificial intelligence can do, we are in a situation where ethics become extremely important,” said Croft, who sits in the U.K.s upper legislative chamber, the House of Lords and is part of a probe by peers into the future of artificial intelligence.
Croft said he has been most concerned by the way humans were being shaped by current artificial intelligence.
He was speaking as lawmakers on Monday publish an eight-month-long inquiry setting out principles for a national and international code on artificial intelligence, which includes operating on principles of intelligibility and fairness, data rights and the idea that autonomous power to hurt, destroy or deceive should not be vested in artificial intelligence.
While the committees recommendations are advisory, the U.K. government will have to respond to the committees findings.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has already put technology, particularly artificial intelligence and its ethics, at the heart of her industrial strategy, believing a burgeoning technology industry will keep the U.K. economy powering post-Brexit.
Croft said he has been most concerned by the way humans were being shaped by current artificial intelligence, rather than the future predictions of conscious machines.
He thinks that within Europe, Britain is “best placed” to be the ethical leader because of the “synergy between our universities and research institutes, our deep democratic and ethical traditions rooted in the Christian tradition” — also citing its place in the world developing AI and its global leadership.
The bishop said the church had “important things to say and to contribute” because it had been wrestling with questions around what it is to be human for thousands of years.
While the church would probably use artificial intelligence in the future because modes of communication were changing, Croft warned against diminishing human contact through “robot clergy” or “chatbots offering counseling.”
The House of Lords committee, which was chaired by the Liberal Democrat Tim Clement-Jones, has welcomed U.K. government plans to establish an industry-led AI Council and create a new U.K. Government Office for AI, announced last November. The government will also create a new advisory Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, similar to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which combines technical expertise and ethicists and regulates fertility treatments. But peers warned the policies must not be too reactive and the institutions must not overlap and conflict.
“That democratic elections can be unduly influenced by the use of social media and AI can be harnessed in such a way that it undermines democracy. There is something very very important at stake there” — Bishop of Oxford Steven Croft
They have also called for a competition review to avoid the monopolization of data by big technology companies, and a Law Commission investigation into whether existing liability law is sufficient when AI systems malfunction or cause harm to users.
They want the U.K. to hold a global summit in London on AI ethics by the end of 2019.
Croft backed the five principles of an AI code set out in the report, warning against human beings not having involvement in decision-making, something he thinks we have “begun to see” in the “alleged political interference in our democratic processes.” He described it as one of the “most serious news stories to emerge in recent years.”
“That democratic elections can be unduly influenced by the use of social media and AI can be harnessed in such a way that it undermines democracy. There is something very very important at stake there,” he said
But he added that the fallout from the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, which has been “ricocheting between what Congress is doing and what the British parliament is doing,” demonstrated that there is “a global community which is wrestling with the same problems.”