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CIPR Debate: Influencing the discussion in AI and emerging technology

by Amy Drummond

This week’s CIPR panel debate – Influencing the discussion in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and emerging technology – featured a mix of speakers with industry and government experience. One matter that all the panellists agreed upon was the need for companies working in AI, and other emerging tech sectors, to communicate clearly and with transparency. The topic of data ethics was also central to the debate.


The panel comprised Nisha Deo from Rainbird; Emily Orton from Darktrace; Ian Colin Taylor, Former Science Minister and Chair of  UKI2S; and the Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee. Our very own Jim Sutton, MD of AprilSix Proof and Chair of CIPR STEM Group, chaired the session.


There was a lot of enthusiasm around the potential for the UK to excel in the area of AI, and it was interesting to note Norman Lamb said that the Industrial Strategy was broadly welcomed across all parties. However, he did question whether it was ambitious enough, and if the allocation of funds is correct (i.e. is budget going to the correct industry areas).


In terms of providing the right environment for AI start-ups to thrive, it was also interesting to hear that trade missions have been incredibly beneficial for both Darktrace and Rainbird. Darktrace also stressed the importance of engaging with local MPs, special advisors and civil servants whenever possible.


Ian Colin Taylor provided tips on how innovators can raise their profile within government, including the importance of working out what you want to say and to whom / which government department. It sounds like an obvious step, yet it is one that is much overlooked.


The many benefits of AI, such as it’s potential to improve lives – through medical diagnosis and treatment – was discussed and Norman Lamb explained the need to establish rules and regulation that ‘do not crush innovation’.


Parallels were drawn between today’s debate around AI and the genetic engineering debate of the mid 1990s (the Dolly the Sheep era). Genetic engineering drew a huge amount of negative publicity at that time, and triggered rigorous regulation, which potentially overshadowed its potential to transform the treatment of hereditary disease.


The issue of emerging technology, such as AI, and its impact on jobs was also addressed and Nisha Deo explained how we should adopt an attitude of lifelong learning to help mitigate against the possible impact. She also said we should combat the Hollywood projection of AI (i.e. Ex-Machina, Terminator) and explain the everyday reality.


In summary, the government needs to ensure the right ecosystem for AI and other emerging technologies to thrive, and this includes regulation that doesn’t stifle innovation, and AI companies need to be clear and transparent about their work in order to create a legitimate culture of trust with stakeholders.


The topic of communication in the age of the techlash is one that we have written about recently, our full report can be found here