Digital Economy Bill: Bishop of Chester asks how Government is keeping pace with technological advancement

On 8th February 2017 the Bishop of Chester, Rt Revd Peter Forster, spoke during a debate on an amendment by Lord Lucas to the Government’s Digital Economy Bill. The amendment was that Ofcom be granted powers to ‘carry out and publish evaluations of algorithms’. 

14.03 Bishop of ChesterThe Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, this is an important amendment because it touches upon the bigger issue of the impact of artificial intelligence on all sorts of aspects of our lives. There is a law called Moore’s law, which says that every two years the power of computers doubles. That has been true over the past 20 or 30 years and we should assume that that power will continue to develop. Artificial intelligence in all its impacting forms will be more and more prevalent in our society and more and more potent in the hands of terrorists in the years to come.

We cannot ask Ofcom to solve all the problems in this area, but I would like to know where the ownership of these risks and the rapid changes in our society falls in the eyes of the Government. Perhaps Ofcom has a role in this regard—search engines or whatever—but it is really part of a bigger picture of how we get ahead of the game with the impact of artificial intelligence. We read in the papers about driverless cars appearing on our streets, and in many other areas of life artificial intelligence will impact upon us. Where is this owned in the corridors of government?

Baroness Buscombe (Con): The huge breadth of use for algorithms means that a one-size-fits-all approach would not, we believe, be appropriate. The development of algorithms is a key source of innovation in the digital economy in areas such as cyber security—as referenced by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester when he talked about anti-terrorism—artificial intelligence, medicine and autonomous vehicles. Tech companies have legitimate concerns and legitimate reasons to protect their intellectual property, including how their algorithms work. This was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, in relation to commercial confidentiality. This is a difficult and quite complex area, but some protections already exist and more will exist. For example, under the general data protection regulation, which will come into effect from 2018 and provide directly applicable rights, people will have a right to object to how decisions are made by algorithms that are based on their personal data and significantly affect them individually.

The amendment was withdrawn after debate.