Peers to create committee on AI to weigh up arguments of ‘techno-optimists’ and ‘techno-pessimists’

Written by Rebecca Hill on 4 April 2017 in News
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Liaison Committee announces decisions on new committees, as failed application for ad hoc inquiry into national identity cards questioned

House of Lords agrees on ad hoc committees for 2017-18 session - Photo credit: PA

The House of Lords Liaison Committee has said there should be an ad hoc committee on artificial intelligence, but has rejected an application for an investigation of national identity cards.

The committee advises the House of Lords on the resources that are required for select committees’ work, as well as reviewing their activity and considering proposals for new committee activities. This includes reviewing peers' proposals for new ad hoc committees, of which there are four per session.

The House of Lords yesterday agreed to the committee’s latest report, New Investigative Committees in the 2017-18 Session, which sets out the four ad hoc committees for the next parliamentary session, as well as those applications that did not succeed.

Speaking in the Lords, senior deputy speaker and Liaison Committee chairman John McFall said that the four ad hoc committees would be on AI; citizenship and civic engagement; political polling and digital media; and on the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.


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The Liaison Committee’s report said that the ad hoc committee on AI “could take evidence on the arguments of the ‘techno-optimists’ versus the ‘techno-pessimists’”, and should report by the end of March 2018.

The report said that the committee, which was proposed by Jonathan Harris, could discuss the pace of technological change, what jobs might be lost or created, the training or funding the government needs to provide and related ethical and transparency issues.

In his proposal, Harris said it would complement the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into robotics and artificial intelligence, which he said had “produced a useful report” but could be expanded on, as the committee’s enquiry “was brief with only two oral evidence sessions”.

The Commons committee has also recently agreed to hold an inquiry into the use of algortihms in decision-making, which are areas that Harris also suggested the Lords ad hoc committee consider.

Meanwhile, the ad hoc committee on digital media, the Liaison Committee said, should consider the influence of social media on political debate and the extent to which government bodies use it to inform and engage with the public.

There should also be discussion of how official online platforms with authoritative sources of information could be created, particularly ahead of elections and referendums, and ask whether there should be regulation or oversight of crowdfunding platforms that raise money for political purposes.

Attitudes to ID cards 'changing'

The Liaison Committee said that 33 proposals had not been chosen, which included the proposal from Labour peer Dale Campbell-Savours for an ad hoc committee to consider national identity cards.

Speaking in the Lords debate yesterday, Campbell-Savours said that he found it “difficult to understand” the committee’s decision not to run the inquiry.

He argued that the case for national identity cards was increasing, and that there was more backing for the idea, saying that the issue of identity was becoming more important because of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

“A huge change is taking place in both Houses of Parliament in attitudes to national identity cards,” he said, adding that, although he acknowledged the Liberal Democrats had a historic, there was “strong support” among Conservative supporters in the country.

Campbell-Savours added: “On my own benches, there is overwhelming support for the reintroduction of national identity cards. Whereas originally they were voluntary, after a compromise arrangement was made, many of my colleagues now believe that they should be mandatory.”

He said that an ad hoc committee would have been an ideal way to carry out a more in-depth assessment, of six to twelve months, which is not possible on the select committees where inquiries often last only two months.

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