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15 Jan, 2024 13:42

AI doing British politicians’ jobs – minister

With officials relying on the technology to read reports, the government may as well “let the robots run the country,” opposition MP Sarah Olney has declared
AI doing British politicians’ jobs – minister

Members of the British government have outsourced their traditional job of reading policy papers and reports to an experimental artificial intelligence, Conservative MP Alex Burghart told a conference in London on Thursday. As well as reducing his workload, Burghart said that AI could put thousands of civil servants out of work.

All of the papers and reports that land on Burghart’s desk are filtered through an “AI red box,” the parliamentary secretary with responsibility for implementation of the tech told an event organized by the Centre for Policy Studies.

“What it does is it can read documents that go into your red box, it can summarize them, it can highlight connections between papers, connections between previous papers,” he said, according to a Daily Mail writeup on the conference.

“And over time, as we fine-tune this model, it will become, I believe, the institutional memory of the department,” he predicted. 

It is unclear how capable AI is of digesting complex policy issues. Another platform developed by the government to interact with the public – similar to ChatGPT – failed miserably, giving false information around a fifth of the time and inexplicably responding to certain questions in French, according to the minister. Burghart did not say whether the “AI red box” shares any of its code with the failed chatbot.

The minister said that he still manually checks all of the papers fed through the red box. “You get the summaries, you get the long reports, but my private office is still reading the long reports and so am I,” he said. “It will be a question for ministers how they prioritize their time with the summaries they get and how reliable they think the summaries are.”

Burghart said that another unnamed minister and a senior civil servant, Alex Chisolm, are both using the same system to lighten their workloads, and that he aims to secure funding in the spring to roll the technology out across the entire government. 

Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney ridiculed the idea. “MPs and Ministers spending time to look over casework and policy is their bread and butter,” she told the Daily Mail. “If they can't be bothered to read things for themselves, we may as well let the robots run the country.”

While the advent of AI might make Burghart’s job easier, others could find themselves made redundant. The minister told the conference that AI could take over “thousands” of fraud-detection jobs in the civil service, leading to “a future in which you have a smaller civil service than you have today.” 

In a blog post published on Sunday, International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva warned that AI could eventually replace around 40% of jobs globally. Governments should “proactively address” the technology and set up social safety nets to counter this problem, Georgieva wrote.