DeHavilland has produced a tech and digital round-up from this week’s Labour Party conference.
- Unsurprisingly, AI was the main focus point in tech discussions.
- Sentiment in Liverpool ranged from optimism about its potential to promote economic growth and productivity to, naturally, concerns about its deployment for harm.
- Intertwined in AI policy discussions were digital skills and inclusion debates.
- Newly appointed shadow Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Peter Kyle outlined Labour’s plan to implement a 10-year research and development budget to cultivate long-term partnerships and drive investment in new tech and infrastructure.
AI was an unmissable topic at this year’s party conference. It was discussed in a range of different settings and policy areas. The three main themes that consistently arose when debating AI were regulation, opportunity and economic growth.
Regarding regulation, conference discussions broadly agreed that there should be stronger regulation on AI, given its ability to spread disinformation and that malign actors can weaponise it.
On the first day of conference, an audio deepfake of Sir Keir Starmer was circulated on social media, which was used as an example of the severe threat unregulated AI can bring.
While the Ada Lovelace Institute called for the AI White Paper to be placed on a statutory footing, others, such as Dr Hetan Shah of the British Academy, cautioned against focusing too much on the existential risk AI poses. He argued that we are in the era of “overhyping” AI, in terms of both its benefits and its risks.
Shadow AI and Intellectual Property Minister Matt Rodda remained optimistic about using AI across the fringe events he spoke at. He drew upon its benefit in health and diagnostics and said the UK has a real opportunity to utilise AI to drive innovation, economic growth and productivity. He consistently said the UK has a competitive advantage in AI and that a Labour government would incentivise investment across the UK.
Discussions also centred on the role the UK can take in leading global policy on AI. Olivia O’Sullivan of Chatham House spoke of the UK’s niches in tech, such as chip design and AI models, but the visa regime needs to be considered to attract good skills to the UK. Dr Melanie Garson of TBI elaborated that the UK has a traditional history of setting global standards, so it should lead by example on AI regulation.
Tech and infrastructure
Looking at tech policy more broadly, shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones outlined that tech is deliberately not one of Labour’s five missions. Instead, he said, tech will underpin all missions and be utilised horizontally across Government.
Addressing delegates at the party conference, shadow Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Peter Kyle unveiled Labour’s plan on tech. He said Labour would implement ten-year research and development budgets to build long-term partnerships and drive investment in new tech and infrastructure. Stability and leadership were the main themes he said Sir Keir would promote.
Digital skills and inclusion
Conference panellists agreed the UK has more to do in promoting digital skills.
Google Public Policy Manager Katie O’Donovan called for a national skills service to diagnose required skills and provide a signposting service, and that a lifelong revolution is needed in digital skills. Falling short of committing to deliver this, Mr Jones said Labour plans to reform FE and vocational training.
In a session on digital exclusion, the panel agreed digital access and services are an essential utility needed in Britain but have long been an invisible issue. Stephen Timms MP said giving young people and older adults in care digital access is a great challenge, and service providers must promote opportunities more heavily. He also said the Government’s digital inclusion+ is no longer viable and requires more funding.