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Schools: Artificial Intelligence Software

Volume 826: debated on Thursday 19 January 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking, if any, in response to the increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence software and its subsequent use by pupils in secondary schools, particularly in creative subjects.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare an interest as a working teacher in a state secondary school in north London.

My Lords, AI has the potential to transform society. We must harness the potential benefits, including reducing workload and improving accessibility, while confronting the risks to trust, privacy and security. We are committed to pupils building knowledge and skills so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that AI creates, including in creative subjects. Since our reforms to GCSEs and A-levels, most assessments are exam based, where pupils are assessed under strict conditions with no internet access.

I thank the Minister for her response. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence at the moment which suggests that students are using AI for everything from essays and poetry to university applications and, rather more surprisingly, visual arts subjects. Just before Christmas, one of my product design A-level students came up to me and showed me some designs that he had done. He had taken a cardboard model, photographed it, put it into a free piece of software, put in three different parameters and had received within minutes 20 high-resolution designs, all original, that were not A-level but degree level. The current discussion seems to be very much about—

Sorry! At the moment this is about plagiarism and fighting the software. When do the Government plan to meet education professionals and the exam boards to design a new curriculum to embrace this new opportunity rather than fight it?

I thank the noble Lord for his question and his reflections. The Government are already engaging with the education sector on these issues. I will meet the head of Ofqual next week. Guidance has also recently been produced for universities on this. The spirit of the noble Lord’s question, which is that we must seize this opportunity, is absolutely a key part of our focus.

My Lords, this Question clearly concerns a very powerful new generative, probabilistic type of artificial intelligence, which we ought to encourage in terms of creativity but not of cheating or deception. Does the Question not demonstrate the limitations of the Government’s online digital and media education strategy? Why is there nothing in the Online Safety Bill on this?

Elements of the Online Safety Bill will touch on this, but, as the noble Lord understands very well, this is much broader than online safety. I push back hard on his assertion of a lack of ambition in the Government’s strategy. This is a central part of the Prime Minister-chaired National Science and Technology Council and is one of the top five priorities within it.

My Lords, I refer my noble friend and the whole House to the report published this week by the Communications and Digital Select Committee on the future of creative industries. What plans do the Government have to improve careers advice about the lucrative careers in the creative industries that require a blend of digital and creative skills?

I take this opportunity to celebrate our extraordinarily successful and innovative creative industries. The Government are doing a great deal in relation to careers advice, including beginning careers advice in primary school, which I know is dear to the hearts of many noble Lords.

My Lords, when the Government are encouraging discussion about artificial intelligence in schools, will they make sure that they balance the undoubted advantages of AI with a warning about the most serious disadvantage of artificial intelligence? It does not lack creativity, it does not lack imagination, it does not lack knowledge, but it lacks empathy. A powerful tool that has knowledge, creativity, imagination and, potentially, instruction but lacks empathy is a hugely dangerous tool in the wrong hands.

The noble Lord makes a good point. AI lacks empathy and emotion. I think the human brain will always be more creative. It changes the skills that we need to equip all of us—our young people, in particular—with in terms of the ability to distinguish fact from fiction and how to apply knowledge and critical thinking.

My Lords, the positive opportunities of AI are to be welcomed, but there is a huge concern, dealt with in detail in the excellent report on the creative industries that was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, about the effect of potential text and data-mining exemptions to IP law on creative workers, including writers and musicians. Will the Government rethink this proposal and properly consult creative workers about this?

This whole area throws up enormous issues in terms of copyright and intellectual property, of which this is one example. I know that colleagues in the Office for Artificial Intelligence are considering these issues in detail.

Will the Minister take the time to make sure that people understand the difference between the various types of technology and particularly assistive technology? Assistive technology may be something that some people need for life, not just through their education, and they should probably start using it earlier than we do. Will the Government make sure that teachers and educationalists know the difference?

I suggest that teachers and educationalists do know the difference. The big change that we are seeing is the development of these LLMs—large language models—and other types of AI. However, I think that particularly for people with special educational needs, whether children or adults, this could really unlock their education in a way we have not seen previously.

I thank my noble friend for her answer because she has set out opportunities for pupils, particularly for those with special needs. She mentioned the Prime Minister’s National Science and Technology Council. Does she agree that the responsible use of AI in schools would set up our young people for the workplaces of the future because AI is with us, whether we like it or not?

My noble friend is absolutely right. The AI genie is out of the bottle, and it is how we manage the risk and capitalise on the opportunity. We are aiming to do that in our schools and universities. We already have a programme for creating 1,000 new AI PhDs through centres for doctoral training as well as opportunities for addressing the lack of diversity in the UK AI market.

My Lords, we are encouraged to hear the Minister speak in such positive terms about AI, but returning to the original Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, is she concerned about fairness of access to technology that may be affecting the way young people are assessed? Not all young people will have the same access to these technologies, and it may be that not all schools are applying advice on this issue consistently.

The noble Baroness raises two different points. On fairness of access to technology, obviously the Government are working very hard and are committed to making sure that those building blocks, in terms of really high-quality wi-fi access, et cetera, are available across all our schools.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, made a declaration of interest that he is a working teacher in a state school in north London. Is the Minister aware that if I were a working teacher in a state school in north Ayrshire it would not be very easy for me to attend the House of Lords? Is that not one of the reasons why more than half the Members of this House are from London? Is that not wrong for a legislative assembly which is meant to represent the whole United Kingdom?

I am not sure of the link to the Question unless the noble Lord is suggesting that at some point a chatbot might replace our Scottish colleagues.

My Lords, I take advantage of this moment to remind the House of my interests, which I should have declared.