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House of Lords’ Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence


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The brief of the Committee is to "consider the economic, ethical and social implications of advances in artificial intelligence". H&P's director Dr Andrew Blick has submitted evidence commenting on artificial intelligence from a historical, constitutional and democratic perspective.

Reading the submission may be a useful exercise for historians who want to contribute to public debate, and for policy makers as an example of how historical context can round out understanding of a contemporary issue.

Responding to one of the Call for Evidence questions, Dr Blick writes:

From one perspective, if artificial intelligence can lead to the more effective delivery of services required by the public, it is desirable from a democratic perspective. But it could raise difficult questions about a crucial constitutional doctrine that can already at times seem nebulous: that of ministerial responsibility to Parliament. This principle is crucial to the working of representative democracy, since it is the means by which Parliament, including its elected component, the Commons, can oversee the executive on behalf of voters. The doctrine holds that secretaries of state and their equivalents are individually answerable to the legislature for their policies and decisions and the activities of their departments... But if artificial intelligence comes to play an increasingly important role in Whitehall, political accountability problems may develop. Potentially, artificial intelligence systems that are learning and changing on their own account, becoming more autonomous, could render the idea of ministerial control less meaningful.

The Committee's Call for Evidence is now closed and oral hearings are underway, with the report due by 31 March 2018, but other Committees have calls open. The guidelines are often very helpful and complete, however if you are a historian interested in submitting evidence and need any guidance please do contact History & Policy.

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With long-established offices in King's College London and the University of Cambridge, H&P is an expanding Partnership currently supported by 6 Higher Education Institutes: King’s College London, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, The University of Edinburgh, University of Leeds, and The University of Sheffield.

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