Dawn Butler: AI risks automating discrimination if threat not taken seriously

Dawn Butler (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Dawn Butler (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Artificial intelligence risks “automating discrimination” if the threat is not taken seriously, Labour former minister Dawn Butler has said.

The MP for Brent Central raised concerns over the use of facial recognition and other technologies, and also warned weakening data rights would leave a situation “ripe for exploitation”.

Speaking about artificial intelligence (AI) and data rights in the Commons, she warned the Government’s approach is to let the technology “off the leash”.

She was speaking as the House held a backbench-led debate on AI.

UK Parliament portraits
Technology minister Paul Scully (Richard Townshend/UK Parliament)

The Labour MP said she recognised the “huge benefits” of AI but stressed: “We need to stay sober and recognise the huge risks because some of these organisations when we asked them ‘where do you get your data from?’, it’s very opaque, they’re not telling us where they get their data from.

“And some of these organisations, as I understand it, have got their mass data scraping from places like Reddit, as we know that’s not really a place that you would go to be informed on many things.

“What we’re doing if we don’t take this seriously is we’re automating discrimination and it’ll become so easy to just accept what the system is telling us – that those people who are marginalised at the moment will become further marginalised.”

She warned: “There are countries at the moment that are outlawing how facial recognition is used, for instance, but we are not doing that in the UK. So we are increasingly looking like the outliers in this discussion and protection around AI.”

She added: “There are already harms that are already arising from AI, and the Government’s recently published white paper takes the view that strong clear protections are simply not needed. I think the Government’s wrong on that. Strong clear protections are most definitely needed.”

“We need new legally binding regulations,” she said, saying the Government has “plans to water down data rights and data protection”.

And she warned against any attempt to relax rules on what is considered personal data, saying: “Our personal data is what ultimately powers many AI systems, and it will be left ripe for exploitation and abuse.”

“Instead of reigning in this technology, the Government’s approach is to let it off the leash, and I think that is problematic,” she told MPs.

Technology minister Paul Scully said the Government has to manage the risks and opportunities of AI.

Addressing Ms Butler’s remark that the Government is letting the technology off the leash, Mr Scully said: “I don’t think it’s right. When we talk about the AI white paper, it’s the flexibility that actually keeps it up to date.”

He added: “The approach the white paper advocates is proportionate and it’s adaptable.

“The proposed regulatory framework draws on the expertise of regulators, supporting them to consider AI in their own sectors by applying a set of high level principles which are outcome focused and designed to promote responsible AI innovation and adoption.”

“Industry supports the plans,” he added.