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by Sofia Villegas
09 November 2023
Lord Speaker's lecture: Julia Gillard calls AI the “public policy challenge” of the next decade

Julia Gillard was Austalia's FM from 2010-2013 | Alamy

Lord Speaker's lecture: Julia Gillard calls AI the “public policy challenge” of the next decade

Lord Speaker's lecture: Julia Gillard calls AI the “public policy challenge” of the next decade

Delivering Lord McFall of Alcluith's lecture, former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard has said allowing scientists to use artificial intelligence (AI) “for good" should be the “public policy challenge” of the next decade.

Gillard, who now chairs the charity Wellcome Trust, explained that enabling the science sector to have open access to AI could bring “bold and innovative” health breakthroughs in areas including pandemic preparedness and research on the human genome.

However, she warned it “won’t happen by accident” as she called for the government to do so by implementing new policies.

Addressing attendees at the House of Lords, she spoke about Google-owned firm DeepMind's recent launch of AI-driven protein-folding software free to use for scientists as an example. 

“They did that out of the goodness of their hearts.

 “They could have made that proprietary, they could have charged people a lot of money for it and therefore limited access to it,” she said.

This call for collaboration on AI comes after last week’s AI safety summit at Bletchley Park. The event saw the EU and 28 nations sign the first-ever International declarations on AI to ensure the future development of innovative technology are safe and human centric.

Gillard, who was Australia's first female prime minister, also told attendees she feared that the “toxic sewer” of social media was holding back female politicians from progressing in their careers. 

“The statistics very clearly show that of the hideous things that get broadcast about politicians in social media, disproportionately they are broadcast about women.

“I'm not talking about a few little insults. We're talking about death threats, rape threats. We're talking about death and rape threats that come with a photograph of your front door, which is then telling the woman involved ‘I know where you live.’ They come with threats against children.

“There's no doubt in my mind that that is corrosive for the women who are in there and it is a drag on women's ambition. I meet a lot of young women who say, ‘I'm interested in politics, but...’ And then always after the ‘but’ is this: ‘Could I take it?’,” she explained.

Born in Glasgow, Lord McFall of Alcuith has served as Lord Speaker since 2021. He was a Labour MP for Dumbarton and then West Dunbartonshire from 1987-2010.

Gillard is the latest addition to the list of well-known guests to have attended Lord Speaker’s Lectures in the House of Lords, with previous speakers including former US President James Carter and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates.

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