AI has potential to create ‘dystopia or utopia’, minister says

Artificial intelligence (AI) could create “dystopia” if advancements in the technology are not managed properly, but its usefulness should not be overlooked, a Government minister has said.

Paul Scully, minster for tech and digital economy, told the TechUK Tech Policy Leadership Conference on Tuesday that there should not just be a focus on a “Terminator-style scenario”.

Earlier this year, Mr Scully contributed to the Government’s white paper on guiding innovation in AI while maintaining public trust in the technology.

He told attendees: “If we get it wrong, there is a dystopian point of view that we can follow here. There’s also a utopian point of view. Both can be possible.

“If you’re only talking about the end of humanity because of some, rogue, Terminator-style scenario, you’re going to miss out on all of the good that AI is already functioning – how it’s mapping proteins to help us with medical research, how it’s helping us with climate change.

“All of those things it’s already doing and will only get better at doing.

“We have to take breathing space to make sure we’re getting this right for the whole of society, as well as the benefit of the sector.”

Mr Scully said the a lot of the principles laid out in the white paper on governing AI “need to be done at an international level”.

Paul Scully
Paul Scully said we should not merely focus on the ‘Terminator-style’ scenario (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

He added: “If you measure countries working on AI, we’re probably about third in the world. So we’ve already got good credibility.

“We want to make sure that businesses can feel that they can become big, scale-up, and stay in the UK and have a level playing field in this digital age.”

Mr Scully’s comments come after an adviser to Rishi Sunak said AI could lead to advances in technology that subsequently “kill many humans”.

Matt Clifford is working with the Government on the Foundation Model Taskforce, which is looking into the likes of ChatGPT and Google Bard.

He said on Monday those working on AI should be regulated on a global scale to ensure control of the systems is not lost.

Mr Clifford told TalkTV: “I think there are lots of different types of risks with AI and often in the industry we talk about near-term and long-term risks, and the near-term risks are actually pretty scary.

“You can use AI today to create new recipes for bio weapons or to launch large-scale cyber attacks. These are bad things.”

Last month, dozens of experts, including senior bosses from the likes of Google, DeepMind and Anthropic, warned AI could lead to the “extinction of humanity”.

Mr Clifford has since said headlines based on the TalkTV interview do not reflect his views.

In a tweet, he said: “Short and long-term risks of AI are real and it’s right to think hard an (sic) urgently about mitigating them, but there’s a wide range of views and a lot of nuance here, which it’s important to be able to communicate.”

A spokesman for Rishi Sunak said the Government is “not complacent about the risks of AI”, but “it does present significant opportunities for the people of the UK”.

But shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell criticised the Government’s White Paper on AI as a “damp squib” and rejected a “conservative, laissez-faire” approach to the technology as ill-judged.

“I think there was really a big missed opportunity there in terms of rather than just giving disparate… functions to a whole plethora of regulators, to really properly co-ordinate that more centrally and provide more leadership and advice,” she said.

At the same event, Ms Powell said Labour would aim to make tech work “for the many, not the few” and opt for an “active, interventionist” strategy that seeks to ensure benefits are shared and the risks are mitigated.

Asked about her proposals to introduce licences for AI developers, first reported in The Guardian, she said: “I do understand concerns that somehow that would then block out new players from the system and would lead to a further aggregation of big tech monopolies.”

But the shadow minister said Labour would guard against this and argued that “certainty” over a regulatory framework would help encourage innovations from small businesses.