The president of the British Science Association has claimed that Artificial Intelligence will become a bigger threat to human life than terrorism and climate change.

Professor Jim Al-Khalili, professor of physics and public engagement at the University of Surrey, spoke of his concerns, claiming that by allowing AI to grow without proper surveillance, the future of Britain will be under threat.

At the London preview of his speech, Al-Khalili said that the progression of AI was “happening at too rapid a pace.” The final draft of the speech will be delivered at the upcoming British Science Festival in Hull.

Upon urging the government to take necessary steps to keep humans in control of AI, Al-Khalili said: “Until maybe a couple of years ago had I been asked what is the most pressing and important conversation we should be having about our future, I might have said climate change or one of the other big challenges facing humanity, such as terrorism, antimicrobial resistance, the threat of pandemics or world poverty.

“But today I am certain the most important conversation we should be having is about the future of AI.

“It will dominate what happens with all of these other issues for better or for worse.

Our government has a responsibility to protect society from potential threats and risks.”

Al-Khalili also said that there’s a real danger of public backlash against AI: “If the public becomes disengaged, our leaders will see it as less of a priority. Regulations will need to be in place, and they may come too late.

At the very least, this will result in the technology not being used to its full potential in the public sector, potentially leading to an increase in inequality in society.”

The President noted the growing concern over the speed at which AI and robotic workforces will perform in the workplace. AI has already been identified as the cause of 30-40% of China’s declining employment numbers.

Al-Khalili commented that: “Robotics and autonomous systems are predicted to bring about job losses, primarily affecting workers in low-skilled roles, and there is little research on how the future effects of automation might vary across the UK.”

Last week, the Bank of England also warned of Britain’s workforce being severely impacted by the rise of AI algorithms and robots.

Al-Khalili’s fears were further echoed by Sue Daley, Head of AI at Tech UK. “AI has unprecedented potential to transform every aspect of our economy and society…but we must keep pace if the UK is to remain at the forefront in the development and application of AI technologies.”

Al-Khalili spoke in favour of adding AI to the curriculum in schools and hosting public education programmes which would help young people get a better knowledge of how to work alongside AI.