The lord of supercomputers! The British Minister of AI is a hereditary peer

Voiced by Amazon Polly

LONDON Nobody disputes that artificial intelligence is the technology of the future, which makes Rishi Sunaks’ choice a bit unorthodox for the post of AI minister in the UK government.

Jonathan Berry, 53, is best known in Westminster as the 5th Viscount Camrose, a hereditary peer in the House of Lords whose title has been passed down the generations from father to son.

There were no castles, Berry jokes about his upbringing, but as a child he visited the family estate of Hackwood Park, then owned by his great-uncle Seymour Berry (the 2nd Viscount Camrose).

The estate, a 17th-century mansion complete with 24 bedrooms, a Tudor-style banqueting hall, library and riding stables, was sold in the late 1990s. But the viscountcy, the fourth rank in the British peerage system directly below an earl and above a baron, survives to this day.

It was that title that last year secured Berry a seat in the House of Lords, one of 92 hereditary peers who continue to sit in the upper house of the British Parliament.

Few would have guessed that less than a year later, Berry would find himself not only sitting in the legislature but installed in a key government department overseeing the UK’s strategy on artificial intelligence, one of five critical technologies identified by the government and a priority staff of the prime minister.

It was never part of the plan to become a minister, Berry admits, speaking in his bare, echoy ground-floor office at the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

But when the government boss called to offer Berry the job, he realized he couldn’t say no. It’s too exciting, he smiles.

Berry’s colleagues in the House of Lords were also taken aback when Sunak came calling in March.

Berry had been a member of a Lords committee dealing with artificial intelligence in weapons systems for about an hour and a half, one colleague joked, though they said they found it fascinating.

His name was new to me! said a veteran House of Lords aide when asked about what Berry’s nomination was like, who only joined Twitter in May, it was received.

Science fiction fan

Not everyone is impressed to see a hereditary peer in such an important role.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has placed a global AI security summit, to be hosted by the UK later this year, at the heart of his efforts to position the UK as a world leader in AI security | Photo shared by Ian Vogler WPA/Getty Images

There is a real question as to whether hereditary peers should be in the House of Lords, and that question becomes even more urgent when we see them being placed in ministerial posts of significant influence in government, said Willie Sullivan, senior director of campaigns for Electoral Reform Society.

Lords ministers lack a democratic link with the public and the distance is even more marked with hereditary peers, who found their way into parliament, and then sometimes into government, by virtue of the privileged circumstances of their birth.

Hereditary lawmakers are something of the 17th century, not a modern 21st century democracy.

But in his four months on the job, Berry has won over some skeptics on the opposition benches who, while finding him, as they said, a bit politically drenched behind the ears, say he’s a serious and hard-working addition to the front bench. .

It was blind luck that Sunak created DSIT in a Whitehall shakeup just under a year after his appointment to the Lords, Berry says, and so he was looking for a minister to represent him in the House of Lords.

Despite Berry’s great background, 1st Viscount Camrose, his great-grandfather William Berry was an early 20th-century newspaper magnate, it was a more prosaic career in management consulting that seems to have attracted Sunak’s attention.

Berry has worked on the technology side, both running his own consultancy and working internally for large companies including Pfizer, Dell, BP and Shell.

The opportunity presented itself and one or two members of House were kind enough to say, “Look, you really should defend this, it would be great to have someone with your kind of techno background in the house, so I stood up twice, and got it the second time around, Berry told POLITICO of her decision to try to enter the UK’s unelected legislative chamber.

Berry says he always chose AI options when studying for an MBA at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania in the late 1990s, but his interest in future technologies began at a young age. He says he’s been thinking about AI since I was about 5 years old as an obsessive science fiction reader.

His father Adrian Berry, the Daily Telegraph’s science correspondent from 1977 to 1997, was also a huge influence. We talked about it a lot, says Berry of the AI.

The first non-fiction book Berry claims he ever read about artificial intelligence was his father’s 1983 The Super Intelligent Machine, dedicated to him and his sister Jessica.

Some fear AI research is so dangerous it should be banned, the book’s dust jacket presciently observes, predicting that the 1990s would see computers understand the human voice and distinguish one face from another.

He goes on to ask: But could it not be the death of one of humanity’s potentially most powerful allies?

Utopia or dystopia?

Berry’s views on the breakneck speed of AI development have crystallized since he took office four months ago.

He once saw AI as a utopia or a dystopia, surprising to humanity or horrendous. Now she thinks there will always be risks, many of them very serious, but also huge opportunities.

Thinking of it as sort of a crossroads with an alternative direction, I don’t think it’s really helpful, he says.

It is reluctant to offer insight into when or if artificial general intelligence, or so-called god-like AI, which is capable of any intellectual task that humans or animals can perform, will be achieved.

Instead it talks about the UK’s aspiration to be home to an early warning system.

The 1st Viscount Camrose, his great-grandfather William Berry, was an early 20th century newspaper magnate | Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Britain should have a physical center that looks at these border risks, constantly scanning the horizon and understanding how close it is or how far it is getting, he says, adding that there is a strong sense of urgency in government.

A government-backed Foundation Model task force, led by tech investor Ian Hogarth, will be tasked with demonstrating how AI could be implemented in two or three sovereign use cases, such as one in healthcare, one in geospatial, for show what the possibilities are.

Not only would it showcase the technology, but it would also demonstrate that government can move quickly and use our huge benefits of integrated data to quickly produce something of real value to society, Berry says.

This helps us demonstrate, okay, we’re hedging and building towards future possibilities.

Engage China

Despite a positive outlook, Berry admits the thought of AI in weapon systems keeps him up at night.

I think many actors, whether state or non-state, will likely get to a point where they can develop AI weapons, he warns, even as he says there are defensive measures that can be taken. Where AI takes the conventional arms race is something anyone thinking about AI needs to worry about.

However, he is adamant that when it comes to AI security, Britain and its allies cannot do it alone.

Sunak has placed a global AI security summit, to be hosted by the UK later this year, at the heart of his efforts to position the UK as a world leader in AI security. Whether China is invited is seen as a key test of Sunak’s ambitions for the summit.

Berry says the issue of China’s participation is a matter for the Foreign Ministry, but says it would be utterly insane to attempt to fork AI security regulation globally.

Where there is a global movement to address the risks of AI, China will need to get involved in one way or another.

I can’t understand why they would choose not to be, she adds.

Ebb and flow

For Berry, AI has long been a hobby of mine, he says. But it also came in handy in her work.

He says he uses AI-powered tools to write speeches (his jokes aren’t very funny, he admits) and to summarize the huge amount of information he has to absorb on a daily basis.

He’s more cautious about that usage, though. AI has no idea if they’re telling you the truth, Berry admits. You have to be pretty careful using it.

Despite the drawbacks, Berry’s lifelong interest in artificial intelligence has assured him that the technology isn’t going anywhere.

It always seemed like it was going to be awesome, and then there were these winters of AI and everyone was like Oh, that’s never going to happen, and then it comes back, he said.

AI is now firmly on the political agenda and developments are coming at breakneck speed. But the fundamental questions haven’t changed much from those posed by Berry’s father 40 years ago, in 1983.

#lord #supercomputers #British #Minister #hereditary #peer
Image Source :

Leave a Comment