lans to cope with the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) are “nowhere near” where they need to be, Sir Keir Starmer warned.
The Labour leader said the technology could have real benefits in areas like the health service, but it could also lead to job losses across the economy.
Speaking at the London Tech Week conference he said a “quite staggering” proportion of jobs could be hit by AI.
Sir Keir said the UK had “all the attributes” to make a success of AI, with major universities and companies like Google DeepMind.
We’ve got to plan for rapid change and at the moment under this Government, we don’t have that infrastructure, that framework in place
“But we’re nowhere near where we need to be on the question of regulation.
“There’s a bit of piecemeal, sector-by-sector regulation in the medical field, the legal field, financial services, but we haven’t got an overarching framework.”
Despite the prospect of job losses as a result of humans being replaced by AI, Sir Keir rejected the idea of a universal basic income – a state handout for all to cover living costs.
“I’m not attracted to universal basic income,” he said.
“I think that the advantage here would be for AI to take some of the jobs that AI will be able to do and for us to make sure that we can train and retrain and reskill the workforce into other areas.
“That’s where I will put my energy.”
Sir Keir said the effects of AI on the employment market could be felt within months.
“I think rather than sit and try to identify each and every job that might be affected, and there’s going to be many, I think it’s a sense of: what’s the infrastructure, the framework that a government needs to set up? And are we ready for the speed of this?
“Because I think there’s still a bit of a feeling that AI may affect us in five years, or six or seven years. This is more likely to be in the next 12 months, 18 months.
“So we’ve got to plan for rapid change and at the moment under this Government, we don’t have that infrastructure, that framework in place.”
Experts involved in AI have called for governments to put in place measures to ensure the technology does not pose an existential threat to humanity.
Asked whether the technology presented a “Terminator 2-style” threat, the Labour leader said: “I tend to be much more grounded than that.”
But he acknowledged that the spread of misinformation and the subsequent public distrust of information more widely could be a potential risk.
“I do think we need to fast-forward on the regulation side,” he said.
Downing Street defended the Government’s approach to AI, which saw Rishi Sunak raise the issue in talks with Joe Biden last week and commit to holding a global summit later this year.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It’s not a coincidence that the UK is second only to the US in terms of democratic countries leading on artificial intelligence, it is because of the competitive tech sector that we have helped shape through government work.”