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That's cute. AI and IoT need 'ethics regulation', mumbles Lib Dem baron

Government kindly but firmly puts him back in his box

A Liberal Democrat peer has suggested that the Internet of Things needs government regulation in the UK.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Baron Timothy Clement-Jones said that artificial intelligence, as well as IoT, needs "huge consideration" of its "ethics".

"It may be that we need to construct a purpose-built regulator for the world of artificial intelligence and the internet of things in ethical terms," Lord Clement-Jones said.

In the Parliamentary debate where the Lib Dem lord was speaking, peers from all the main political parties fretted and fanned themselves over the perceived dangers of algorithms.

"According to a recent radio programme, algorithms are used to make individual decisions in the fields of employment, housing, health, justice, credit and insurance. I had heard that employers are increasingly studying social media to find out more about job applicants. I had not realised that an algorithm, programmed by an engineer, can, for example, take the decision to bin an application," added Baroness Byford, a Conservative member of the upper house.

The debate centred around a proposed amendment to the Digital Economy Bill which would have given Ofcom the power to "carry out and publish evaluations of algorithms" – a very widely drawn clause seemingly intended to let the telly regulator exercise jurisdiction over Google and social media platforms.

"We, particularly those of us of a certain age, often get to a point where we are scared of the technology that we are expected to use," said Labour's Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. "However, we should not be scared of technologies. History should tell us that the reason why Shakespeare's Globe is outside the city walls of London is that people like us in those days felt that they were dangerous plays that should not be seen by too many people. Video nasties and indeed concerns about some of the issues that are in the Bill are examples of the same thing. We have to be careful that this is not just another 'penny dreadful' story but a serious issue."

He then went on to relate how a charity he was involved with had fallen off the first page of Google, reducing the number of people contacting it, and used that example to illustrate why he was supporting the new clause regardless.

"The government recognise that how these algorithms work is increasingly important and have been actively looking at how we can ensure that there is transparency and accountability where algorithms have an impact on people's lives," said Baroness Buscombe, on behalf of the government, smoothing over the elderly peers' worries about that new-fangled interweb thingy. "The huge breadth of use for algorithms means that a one-size-fits-all approach would not, we believe, be appropriate."

Lady Buscombe also pointed out that the clause would be "an enormous undertaking for Ofcom, or indeed, any regulatory body."

Conservative peer Lord Elton, who introduced amendment 214 to the Digital Economy Bill, agreed to withdraw it without further debate. ®

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