Sadiq Khan: Brexit chaos has sidelined vital preparations for impact of AI and technological change in UK

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has warned that Brexit chaos has resulted in the government sidelined preparations for the potential impact of rapid technological change on the UK society.

He has called on the next prime minister — whoever that might be — to give the artificial intelligence revolution more attention, with a renewed focus on public understanding and trust.

Speaking at CogX, an event hosted by AI firm CognitionX on the opening day of London Tech Week 2019, the Mayor warned that the UK should be much further ahead than we are now as a country — not only in terms of making sure we can make the most of what AI has to offer, but in educating the public, encouraging public debate and preparing for the potential impact on our society.

The Mayor of London also expressed his belief that local and national government should embrace the transformative potential of AI to deliver better services, but that we ‘must tread extremely carefully’ given the many ethical and privacy issues that the advancement of AI raises.

London is leading, but the UK can do more

London is already a leading destination for AI and is home to more than 750 AI firms, more than twice as many as its closest European rivals — Paris and Berlin — combined.

The technology has been adopted in a range of services in London, such as online chatbots offering customer services, the prioritisation of council home repairs and maintenance, traffic signalling and demand-responsive transport to ease congestion.

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But Khan wants to go further and for London and Britain to become true world-leaders in AI — both in the development of new tech and in how we ensure it’s always beneficial, not detrimental, to our future.

Tabitha Goldstaub, Co-founder of CognitionX said: “We are delighted to welcome the Mayor to CogX this year, where he’s joined by so many industry, public service and academic leaders from around the world, who are all committed to making sure that AI is used ethically and responsibly, so that we can fully realise the social and economic benefits.

“London is taking the lead, both with regard to its thriving artificial intelligence and machine learning cluster, and through the innovative trialling and roll-out of AI-powered services that will help improve the lives of Londoners and those visiting London, now and for future generations”.

The mayor of London: his view on AI

On the need to harness the power of AI to benefit Londoners whilst considering the ethical and privacy issues Sadiq Khan said:

“A crucial part of making the most of innovation is about embracing AI’s potential and the incredible benefits it can bring to people.

“Whilst I’m a big advocate for cities to get engaged and motivated to make the most of tech to improve lives – we must also tread extremely carefully. There’s no question that the rise of machine learning and AI in city government – and around the world in general – raises many ethical and privacy issues.

“It’s crucial that we ensure we secure, rather than undermine, the confidence of local citizens. For people need to have trust in tech if we’re to make the most of it, and this is what we’re setting out to do in London.”

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On how Brexit has resulted in the government sidelining preparations for the impact of AI Sadiq Khan said:

“As Mayor, I want us to continue to lead by example in London to show how we can use AI effectively and to show how it’s possible to bring the public with us, but the truth is that if we’re going to get this right, we must all work together – the AI sector as well as both local and national government.

“There’s no doubt that as a country we should be much further ahead than we are now – not only in terms of making sure we can make the most of what AI has to offer, but in terms of educating the public, encouraging public debate and preparing for the potential impact on our society.

“Unfortunately — like with so many other issues in recent years — Brexit seems to have resulted in the government side-lining preparations for the potential impact of AI on our society, draining central government resource and attention away from one of the most important debates of the day.”

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On how the next prime minister must give AI the attention it deserves Sadiq Khan said:

“I call on the next prime minister — whoever that may be — to give AI the attention it deserves.

“With such profound questions ahead, the public has a right to be heard, and a right to expect democratic leaders to guide them along this delicate path. Because it must ultimately fall to government – working with tech businesses and leaders – to ensure that AI adoption is always steered towards augmenting, not replacing human thought and endeavour.

“Let’s make sure that London and Britain become true world-leaders in AI – both in our development of new tech, and in how we implement it for good.”

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is the editor for Information Age. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber security.