Labor Criticizes UK Government’s AI Approach, Stating Workers Are Disadvantaged

In this post:

  • Labor criticizes the UK government’s AI approach, claiming workers are disadvantaged.
  • Government’s pro-innovation stance is insufficient, says Labor, calls for comprehensive AI regulation.
  • Labor aims to harness AI for the public good, and prioritize worker rights and safety.

Labor’s shadow digital minister, Lucy Powell, has criticized the UK government’s AI approach, stating that it fails to keep pace with technological advancements. Powell warns that AI technologies disrupt society and the economy, leading to potential job cuts as companies turn to automation. She describes the government’s approach as confused, chaotic, and slow, leaving workers disadvantaged. Powell outlines Labor’s proposed strategy for addressing these challenges and ensuring stability for businesses while protecting workers.

Speaking at an AI tech leaders event, Powell, who oversees the digital, culture, media, and sports portfolio in Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet, emphasizes that ministers are not adequately addressing the scale of the AI challenge or effectively leading the UK in emerging technology. Labor aims to provide businesses with stability and workers with confidence, ensuring they won’t be abandoned in the pursuit of transforming Britain into an AI-first economy.

AI approach to regulation and investment

AI has sparked heated debates among politicians, both in Westminster and globally. The extent of regulation required to manage the technology’s impact and the necessary investments to ensure competitiveness against other countries are key issues under scrutiny. The AI boom, triggered by OpenAI’s launch of ChatGPT, has prompted companies across sectors to update their business models and software by incorporating generative AI technology.

The government, led by Rishi Sunak, has adopted a light-touch, pro-innovation approach to AI regulation, emphasizing international cooperation and safety standards. Initiatives include arranging an international summit on AI safety and establishing a £100 million foundation model AI taskforce. However, Labour argues that these efforts are insufficient and has previously called for a more comprehensive regulatory body to govern AI usage.

Impact on workers and job cuts

Since the beginning of the year, several major employers, such as IBM and BT, have announced significant reductions in their workforce over the next decade. BT plans to cut up to 55,000 jobs by utilizing AI to increase efficiency and eliminate human roles. Powell emphasizes the ongoing technological disruption and warns that the country must decide who will benefit from it. She questions whether wealth and power will be concentrated among a few, leaving communities behind as occurred during deindustrialization, or if technology can be harnessed for the public good, widening opportunities and fairly distributing benefits.

Labor advocates for harnessing technology for the public good, stressing the importance of deploying it with fairness, accountability, safety, and strategic government action. Powell affirms that Labor will focus on workers and their rights, aiming to empower them rather than exclude them through biased algorithms and automation-driven job losses. 

The party promises to ensure that technologies are designed with worker safety, covering areas such as surveillance, performance management, hiring, and firing. They also propose the establishment of a new body called “Skills England,” which aims to bridge the gap between local government, central government, and industry, improving training and addressing the growing number of vacancies in the tech sector.

Critique of government’s digital regulation

Powell points out issues with the Online Safety Bill, criticizing it as an example of ineffective digital regulation. She likens it to a 1980s political sitcom, stating that it has suffered delays, inconsistencies, and a departure from its principles-based approach. She further criticizes the government’s data bill for weakening rights when public trust should be strengthened. Powell adds that the government’s AI strategy was outdated immediately after publication.

Labor pledges to collaborate with business groups to develop tech policies. When asked if this partnership extends to third-party groups, a Labor spokesperson confirms extensive consultation with unions and groups impacted by AI implementation. They emphasize that the party’s approach will ensure AI is harnessed for the public good, ensuring fair distribution of benefits and opportunities accessible to all.

Government’s proportionate AI approach

In its AI white paper, the government states that its approach to AI is proportionate, adaptable, and context-sensitive, striking a balance between addressing risks and maximizing opportunities.

Labor criticizes the government’s handling of AI, particularly about the impact on workers. The party proposes a strategy that prioritizes worker rights, safety, and fairness and aims to harness technology for the public good. They call for more comprehensive regulation and collaboration with various stakeholders to ensure broad consultation and fair access to AI benefits.

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