DeHavilland Policy Coordinator has produced a tech focussed round-up from last week’s Conservative party conference.
- MPs and fringe panellists across CPC23 were optimistic about the tech sector as the UK looks forward to the AI summit, which will be held in November.
- AI resilience and safety dominated conversation, with specialists agreeing that the 2023 AI White Paper doesn’t go far enough in protecting the UK from emerging AI risks.
- Speakers added that international engagement is key to regulating AI and that the November summit will provide an opportunity for this. Stakeholders emphasised the importance of China attending the Summit.
- Across fringe events, there was general criticism of the EU AI Act, with experts claiming that the EU had been too quick to legislate in this area.
- As the Online Safety Bill awaits Royal Assent, several Conservative MPs criticised elements of the Bill and alluded to it being too ambitious.
- Several fringes emphasised the role of skills in the UK’s tech sector; Science, Innovation, and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan announced 3,000 new AI scholarships as part of her conference speech.
AI safety and resilience dominated discussions at conference as stakeholders looked towards the AI Summit, which the UK will host next month. At an event hosted by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, former Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Lord Vaizey suggested that the summit might be something of a “COP” for the technology sector and stated that the UK’s hosting of the summit demonstrates the Government’s commitment to being a world leader on AI safety. Industry leaders also praised the establishment of the AI Taskforce, with it agreed that the taskforce will be a strength for the UK in terms of promoting the ethical use of AI.
Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Alicia Kearns MP stressed the importance of China having a seat at the table in the international AI debate at a techUK event entitled “Does AI offer a new global role for Britain?”. Across fringes, tech leaders praised the excellence of the UK’s research and innovation sector but conceded that competing with the US and China presents a challenge. In a bid for the UK to be taken seriously on the global stage, Kearns also highlighted the need for more tech experts in Parliament, encouraging those from a tech background to stand for elected office.
Several panels stressed the value of deploying AI in educational and health contexts and alluded to its benefits in terms of saving time and resources. Upskilling and re-skilling Britain’s workforce to keep up to speed with AI developments was also a key topic of discussion amongst tech experts. Alongside this, as part of her main-stage speech, Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan announced a £3,000 boost for new AI scholarships where businesses can claim this sum for each new apprentice hired.
Tackling digital exclusion was also on the conference agenda, with Tech and Digital Economy Minister Paul Scully appearing at a Digital Poverty Alliance event to emphasise the benefits of a digitally included society. While experts called upon an updated digital exclusion strategy, Mr Scully stated that the 2014 Digital Exclusion strategy would not be reformed or amended. In addition, Michelle Donelan highlighted the need for strong broadband access across the country and announced a new £60 million regional innovation fund.
Online Safety Bill:
The Online Safety Bill also dominated tech discussions, with Donelan maintaining in her speech that the Bill will protect children from accessing social media platforms underage and inappropriate content. Following the completion of the Bill’s passage through Parliament, at a Spectator event entitled “Online Safety Bill: Sense or Censorship?”, Conservative MPs, including Miriam Cates and David Davis criticised elements of the Bill which will soon become an Act after receiving Royal Assent. The MPs expressed concerns that the Bill had been too ambitious, with Cates stating that it had become something of a “Christmas tree” piece of legislation encompassing many far-reaching and irrelevant clauses. She added that the Bill ought to have been sponsored by the Home Office and should have focused on child online safety.
Looking ahead to the AI summit, we can expect to see the Government provide greater clarity on the steps being taken to drive forward the Government’s mission to become a science and tech superpower by 2030.