The Government’s approach to artificial intelligence and large language models has become too focused on a narrow view of AI safety and risks missing “the AI goldrush”, according to a report from the House of Lords.
The House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee’s report, published this month, says the UK must rebalance towards boosting opportunities while tackling near-term security and societal risks, otherwise it will ‘fail to keep pace with competitors, lose international influence and become strategically dependent on overseas tech firms for a critical technology’.
The report says large language models will produce epoch defining changes comparable with the invention of the internet.
It issues a stark warning about the ‘real and growing’ risk of regulatory capture, as ‘a multi-billion pound race to dominate the market deepens. Without action to prioritise open competition and transparency, a small number of tech firms may rapidly consolidate control of a critical market and stifle new players, mirroring the challenges seen elsewhere in internet services’.
The Committee welcomed the Government’s work on positioning the UK as an AI leader, but said a more positive vision for LLMs is needed to reap the social and economic benefits, and enable the UK to compete globally. Key measures include more support for AI start-ups, boosting computing infrastructure, improving skills, and exploring options for an ‘in-house’ sovereign UK large language model.
The Committee said it had considered the risks around large language models (LLMs) and said ‘the apocalyptic concerns about threats to human existence are exaggerated and must not distract policy makers from responding to more immediate issues’.
The report found there were more limited near-term security risks including cyber attacks, child sexual exploitation material, terrorist content and disinformation. The Committee said catastrophic risks are less likely but cannot be ruled out, noting the possibility of a rapid and uncontrollable proliferation of dangerous capabilities and the lack of early warning indicators. The report called for mandatory safety tests for high-risk models and more focus on safety by design.
The Committee also called on the Government to support copyright holders, saying the Government “cannot sit on its hands” while LLM developers exploit the works of rightsholders. It rebuked tech firms for using data without permission or compensation, and said the Government should end the copyright dispute ‘definitively’ including through legislation if necessary. The report calls for a suite of measures including a way for rightsholders to check training data for copyright breaches, investment in new datasets to encourage tech firms to pay for licensed content, and a requirement for tech firms to declare what their web crawlers are being used for.
To steer the UK toward a positive outcome, the Committee set out 10 core recommendations. These include measures to boost opportunities, address risks, support effective regulatory oversight – including to ensure open competition and avoid market dominance by established technology giants – achieve the aims set out in the AI White Paper, introduce new standards, and resolve copyright disputes.
Commenting Baroness Stowell, chairman of the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee, said: “The rapid development of AI large language models is likely to have a profound effect on society, comparable to the introduction of the internet. That makes it vital for the Government to get its approach right and not miss out on opportunities – particularly not if this is out of caution for far-off and improbable risks. We need to address risks in order to be able to take advantage of the opportunities – but we need to be proportionate and practical. We must avoid the UK missing out on a potential AI goldrush.
“One lesson from the way technology markets have developed since the inception of the internet is the danger of market dominance by a small group of companies. The Government must ensure exaggerated predictions of an AI driven apocalypse, coming from some of the tech firms, do not lead it to policies that close down open-source AI development or exclude innovative smaller players from developing AI services. We must be careful to avoid regulatory capture by the established technology companies in an area where regulators will be scrabbling to keep up with rapidly developing technology.
“There are risks associated with the wider dissemination of LLMs. The most concerning of these are the possibility of making existing malicious actions quicker and easier – from cyber attacks to the manipulation of images for child sexual exploitation. The Government should focus on how these can be tackled and not become distracted by sci-fi end-of-the-world scenarios.
“One area of AI disruption that can and should be tackled promptly is the use of copyrighted material to train LLMs. LLMs rely on ingesting massive datasets to work properly but that does not mean they should be able to use any material they can find without permission or paying rightsholders for the privilege. This is an issue the Government can get a grip of quickly and it should do so.
“These issues will be of huge significance over the coming years and we expect the Government to act on the concerns we have raised and take the steps necessary to make the most of the opportunities in front of us.”