Scottish minister warns on Westminster’s ‘hands-off’ approach to AI and requests urgent UK summit

Written by Ruaraidh Gilmour and Sam Trendall on 6 June 2023 in News

Richard Lochhead compares technology to previous industrial revolutions and says government’s job is to minimise harms and spread opportunities

Credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

Scottish Government innovation minister Richard Lochhead has called for an urgent summit bringing together representatives of the four nations of the UK to discuss the implications of artificial intelligence.

In a written ministerial statement, Lochhead told said that he is “concerned” that the UK government’s approach to AI has been “hands off” to this point.

He compared the growing power of AI with “previous technological and industrial revolutions”.

“There are always winners and losers,” he said, in a written ministerial statement. “And it is the job of democratic governments to ensure that the benefits are spread as fairly as possible, and the risks controlled. AI is with us and can’t be uninvented, so this needs to happen now.”

Lochhead added: “Well-publicised calls for governments to pay attention to the long-term, hypothetical risks of AI, shouldn’t distract us from the very real risks of AI today, such as discrimination because of bias, the negative impact on certain jobs if those professions do not evolve, or election manipulation, to give another example. It is clear intervention is needed. Even the tech giants who have made AI what it is today, are now calling for government to intervene, even if there is a suspicion some may be doing that to pull the ladder up behind them.”

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The minister’s statement said that he would this week write to UK secretary of state for science, innovation and technology Chloe Smith to “request an intensified dialogue between the UK government and devolved administration”.

“We need government leadership and regulatory action is required,” the Holyrood minister added. “Most of the regulatory levers for AI are currently controlled by the UK government. Data protection, consumer protection, equality and human rights, employment regulations, medical devices regulation, telecommunications, financial services, self-driving cars – these are all reserved matters to the UK government. We are a bit concerned that current UK government plans for hands-off, non-statutory regulation of AI, will not meet Scotland’s needs and it seems to be in contrast to the responses from other countries.”

In the meantime, the Scottish Government has commissioned an independent review to set out what Scotland needs to do to maximise the benefits of the technology while controlling the risks. The review will be carried out by the Scottish AI Alliance’s leadership group, which comprises of experts from a range of sectors and representatives of civil society group.  

Lochhead’s statement comes shortly after more than 350 technology experts, academics and politicians called on governments around the world to do more to prevent “the risk of extinction” from the emerging technology. This was backed by some important names in the sector, namely the chief executive and co-founder of ChatGPT-developer OpenAI, Sam Altman, and the so-called “Godfather of AI” Geoffrey Hinton – who recently resigned from his post at Google and warned about the dangers of AI and expressed a degree of regret about his life’s work.


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