ChatGPT could play a role in government work, new science minister said.
Michelle Donelan believes the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot, which can provide human-like answers to complex questions, should be seen as an “opportunity” rather than a threat.
In her first interview since being appointed Secretary of State in the new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), she said: “We should never be afraid of these technologies. We should hug her.”
Her comments follow reports that officials were warned not to use ChatGPT to write government policies or correspondence after its popularity exploded.
Earlier this month, it emerged that several departments have sent inquiries to DSIT to clarify whether AI chatbots can be used to automate certain tasks, including writing emails, letters, and other work associated with the formulation of government policies.
Eerily human-like responses
ChatGPT, a machine learning-trained chatbot developed by Silicon Valley firm OpenAI, launched in November.
It has garnered widespread attention for its eerily human-like responses and has been used by tens of millions of tech fans and researchers.
Several companies, including investment bank JP Morgan, have restricted employees’ use of ChatGPT as employers grow increasingly nervous about sensitive data being exposed. Accenture, the technology consulting firm, has also warned its employees against exposing customer data to software.
Speaking to The Telegraph at engineering firm Avon Protection’s Wiltshire headquarters, Ms Donelan said ChatGPT was a “huge opportunity”.
“I think this type of technology is going to create a whole host of new jobs in areas we haven’t even thought of, and where that takes us is limitless. We have to tap into that,” she said.
“Of course we need regulation, we need protective measures. But we should never be afraid of these technologies. We should embrace them and use them so they can lead to job creation here in the UK.”
No outsourcing to chatbots
Ms Donelan said public services should rely on their own expertise, as well as that of outside experts, to shape government policy, rather than “outsourcing” work on chatbots.
But she added, “We need to think about what the utility of ChatGPT is… just like any other organization would.”
When asked if that could play a role in any way, Ms Donelan said: “I think those are things that we need to look at – I think when we look at all forms of technology, we shouldn’t be thinking about how it will replace someone’s work or how it will replace a person’s functions.
“If we look at how this type of technology could be used by teachers or hospitals, it can make you think about how AI and other technologies can reduce the administrative burden that individuals face so they can get on with their actual work being employed to do . These are the kinds of opportunities that I think we should explore through new and emerging technologies.”
Rishi Sunak founded DSIT earlier this month during his cabinet reshuffle and said he wanted Britain to become a “science and technology superpower”.
“A growing, booming industry”
On Monday, Ms Donelan will unveil the department’s plan to make innovation the “foundation” of business and achieve scientific “superpower” status by 2030. This includes investing in AI skills as well as attracting top talent from around the world to set up businesses in the UK.
“We’re one of the few technology sectors in the world valued at over $1 trillion,” she said. “It’s a growing, booming industry, but we want it to keep growing.”
Ms Donelan said people shouldn’t let “horror stories” about Chinese spy chips get in the way of new technology adoption.
Last month Conservative MPs urged the government to disclose whether ministerial cars contain Chinese-made chips they fear could track politicians’ movements.
New concerns over the safety of cabinet members surfaced after a search of vehicles reportedly found a hidden tracking device linked to Beijing last week.
Technology and Security Threats
While the claims have been firmly denied by China, the alleged incident has prompted backbenchers to warn against the use of technology that could pose security threats.
Meanwhile, a US-based security firm warned China could use smart devices to monitor Britons and collect data on devices found in homes every day.
A report by former Beijing diplomat Charles Parton detailed how microchips embedded in cars and home appliances could allow China to threaten national security.
“I think if we search the newspapers, we’re always going to find a bunch of horror stories,” she said.
Ms Donelan explained that while national security is a priority, “the common denominator in all of this is that we are an innovation and technology government”.
She added: “Of course, if we see evidence, we would act as we did with Huawei. But I think people should be confident about embracing technology in general.”
Her pro-technology stance puts her at odds with some within her own party who have called for a more cautious approach to Chinese technology.
Row on TikTok usage
It comes amid a row among senior Tories over MPs’ use of TikTok, amid claims the social media app poses “significant” security risks.
Alicia Kearns, chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said MPs using the app were vulnerable to snooping by Chinese spies.
But Grant Shapps, Energy Secretary and prolific TikTok user, said MPs not using it are “missing a trick” and that he would not be “chased” from the platform.
Ms Donelan believes members of the public, including MPs, “should use their own discretion and thought process” to decide whether to use TikTok.
“Obviously when it comes to government devices, that’s something that’s run by the Cabinet Office and the government’s National Security Group, who will be looking at these things, but I think for the general public, it’s up to them whether they do it [use TikTok] or not.”