British digital pioneer Martha Lane-Fox has called for “reasonable conversations” around artificial intelligence, amidst the frenzy around generative AI tools such as ChatGPT.

Her comments come after AI researchers and tech industry figures signed an open letter last week warning that AI systems can pose “profound risks to society and humanity”.

The letter, signed by names such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, called for a “pause” on the development of cutting-edge AI systems for at least six months to “give society a chance to adapt”.

In a radio broadcast interview with the BBC Lane-Fox warned against “becoming too hysterical or hype-driven” when approaching AI.

‘Rational and reasonable’

“Having a rational and reasonable conversations is the important thing,” she said.

She added it was important to look carefully at the technology and “how we can mitigate the risks and double down on the opportunities”.

Lane-Fox said there was “no point” in “sitting here saying ‘AI going to destroy the world'” because “it’s happening”.

“Technology isn’t slowing down,” she said.  It’s speeding up with digitising. So we have to decide whether we’re going to digitise in a way that is ethical, that is inclusive, that is sustainable.”

Image credit: Elon Musk

AI regulation

Lane-Fox founded lastminute.com in 1998, at the height of the dot-com boom, and has since remained a prominent figure in the UK tech and business scene.

A life peer, in 2013 she became the youngest member of the House of Lords at that time, aged 40, and has more recently served as digital adviser to successive governments and become the president of the British Chambers of Commerce.

Lane-Fox said it is important to get as much diversity as possible involved when creating legislation around future technologies – as the European Union is doing with the AI Act, which may be finalised this year.

The UK government recently published its own white paper on AI regulation, indicating it tends to rely largely on existing laws with a limited regulatory role for government.

Elon Musk and Twitter

Lane-Fox added that she is “totally horrified” at the limited participation of women in the tech sector, which she said was unchanged from the 1990s.

She said there was a greater proportion of women in the House of Lords than there are working in technology.

Lane-Fox was on the board of Twitter as non-executive director until Elon Musk took over the platform in October 2022 and called the experience of negotiating the sale “exhausting”.

Of Musk himself, Lane-Fox said, “You have to put your kind of personal beliefs aside,” and warned that she “wouldn’t underestimate either Elon or Twitter”.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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