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Lawmakers want UK to set example on transparency in AI decision making

British lawmakers want more transparency and less bias in decision-making -- not their own, of course, but in decisions made by AI systems.

As more and more software systems and connected devices employ artificial intelligence technologies to make decisions for their owners, the lawmakers want to know what's behind their thinking. 

The U.K. Parliament's Science and Technology Committee has been studying the need for more regulation in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence.

Recent advances in AI technology raise a host of social, ethical and legal questions, the committee's members said in a report published Wednesday.

We need, they said, to think about whether transparency in decisions made by AI systems is important; whether it's possible to minimise bias being accidentally built into them; and how we might verify that such technology is operating as intended and will not lead to unwanted or unpredictable behaviors.

This being the Science and Technology Committee, one of the conclusions is that more research is needed and that Parliament should create a standing Commission on Artificial Intelligence to figure out how to regulate it. Lawyers, social scientists, natural scientists, and philosophers should all be represented on the commission, in addition to computer scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, the committee recommended in its report.

"While it is too soon to set down sector-wide regulations for this nascent field, it is vital that careful scrutiny of the ethical, legal and societal dimensions of artificially intelligent systems begins now," the report said.

With AI likely to disrupt the employment market, taking over many jobs that only humans can do today, the committee wants the government to make the education system more flexible -- and able to train people throughout their lives, not just during their school years.

This will be a huge undertaking, in the U.K. at least. The committee notes the country is already suffering a digital skills crisis, and the government has still not published its strategy for helping workers cope with the existing array of digital technologies.

The U.K. government identified robotics and autonomous systems as long ago as 2013 as being one of eight great technology areas in which the country could become a global leader. Despite that, there is no government strategy for developing skills and investment to create future growth in robotics and AI, the committee found. And with Brexit, the U.K.'s departure from the European Union, looming, it may become harder for the country to recruit those skills from abroad.

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