back to article Pound falling, Marmite off the shelves – what the UK needs right now is ... an AI ethics board

The UK government has been urged to establish an AI ethics board to tackle the creeping influence of machine learning on society. The call comes from a Robotics and Artificial Intelligence report published yesterday by the the House of Commons science and technology select committee. It quotes experts who warned the panel that …

  1. Mutton Jeff

    If Bees make honey...

    Do wasps make Marmite?

    (mustard mit, I luvs the stuff)

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge


        Get some Vegemite up ya.

        I presume it's available there?

        1. TitterYeNot

          Re: Alternatives

          "Get some Vegemite up ya.

          I presume it's available there?"

          I have heard exotic tales of this Aussie Marmite wondrous elixir, from those who have journied far to where men walk upside down upon the earth and venomous spiders infest one's codpiece.

          But unfortunately Sainsbury's stopped selling it. Probably an evil scheme to get our local Aussies mainlining on Marmite...

        2. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Alternatives

          Get some Vegemite up ya.

          I presume it's available there?

          Yeah, Vegemite which like Marmite for kids.

          We can get it if we look hard enough (is it supposed to be a Kraft product?)

          Thought it was Aussie, not American corporate.

          Anyway, prefer my salt-bomb home grown.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If Bees make honey...

        I don't know what people are worrying about, once America votes in trump the dollar will drop and the pound will be back to normal. Just waiting on the Russians uploading Hilary's email server contents now to finish it all off nicely.

        1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

          Re: If Bees make honey...

          Trouble is, Unilever is Euro-based.

          Our issue is more related what Greece refused to do: they didn't want to leave the Euro because it would make them poorer when they got the Drachma back. We have decided to leave and so are now becoming poorer. Marmite is more expensive -- that's what Brexit means.

          There must be a lot of Marmite-haters out there.

        2. Cynic_999

          Re: If Bees make honey...

          The Bees' union has called most bees out on strike - that's why you are seeing less of them flying around. They are demanding shorter flowers and more honey.

      3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: If Bees make honey...

        I wondered whether there were Tesco-name substitutes for the unavailable products. If so, then a storm in an own-brand tea cup.

    2. WibbleMe

      Re: If Bees make honey...

      Hops (Sugar) and Yeast makes more Yeast makes Beer and loads of dead Yeast that is used to make Marmite

      1. 's water music

        Re: If Bees make honey...

        Hops (Sugar) and Yeast makes more Yeast makes Beer and loads of dead Yeast that is used to make Marmite

        So I think what you are saying here is that it our patriotic British duty to drink more beer in order to safeguard the supply or Marmite?

        Precautionary principle FTW.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: If Bees make honey...

        The sugar comes from the grains. The hops only add flavour and bitterness to beer ( basically any flavour that isn't malty ). Think citrus, etc.

    3. Fungus Bob

      Re: If Bees make honey...

      "(mustard mit, I luvs the stuff)"

      We can fix that for you.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        Euro based

        Hence the 19% increase they've tried in Ireland. Maybe they're confused about the border?

  2. Tom 7

    Solder free?

    How long before AI does our ethics for us?

    1. Anonymous Blowhard

      Re: Solder free?

      I, for one, welcome the replacement of our ethically-challenged overlords by AI...

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Solder free?

        Ethics outsourcery?

        Politicans will stop to even attempt to think completely and get FAT ARSES!

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge

    I for one welcome our AI overloards

    May they occupy 10 Downing Street ASAP.

    1. Teiwaz

      Re: I for one welcome our AI overloards

      An Ai is unlikely to ignore any ethical programming when a Bankers draught is waved in its direction.

      Bet you anything, part of any commitee will want a 'back door' in that too - just to ensure it comes to the 'right' decision.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slightly off topic but...

    ... isn't if funny how Unilever didn't put the price of marmite and other goods down when the pound was high?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Slightly off topic but...

      or seem to have failed to notice that most products are made in the UK.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        made in the UK

        Yes, but profits booked in Switzerland.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Slightly off topic but...

      Having dealt with Tesco supply chain I doubt that the blame is one sided here. Certainly at one point Tesco felt they had the power to dictate prices to it's suppliers. They would tell you that they would be paying x per unit, which was quite often less than your manufacturing cost.

      It looks to me like Unilever called their bluff and Tesco are trying to punish them. Basically they are both acting like cocks.

      1. JetSetJim

        Re: Slightly off topic but...

        > They would tell you that they would be paying x per unit, which was quite often less than your manufacturing cost.

        I've even heard of folks entering into signed agreements with Tescos then being rung up at a later point and being told that the price per unit is being reduced. The Tescos buyers are no doubt under much pressure to reduce costs, so they've taken up this strategy with the hope that sufficient numbers of suppliers won't question the legality of this approach.

        1. Triggerfish

          Re: Slightly off topic but...

          Not just them, as someone who used to work for a supplier of duvets to another large chain, the price offered per unit wouldn't have even covered the materials they required.

          1. MAF

            Re: Slightly off topic but...

            Hence the term 'material costs'

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Slightly off topic but...

          As a reseller supplying Tesco we were making a gross margin of 0.12%. All our costs had to come out of that. We were also 'encouraged' to provide a 6 figure 'marketing fund'.

          Most supermarkets treat suppliers badly but Tesco are a disgrace.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Slightly off topic but...

          From what I read just (lost where it was)

          Tesco's operating margin is about 1.5%

          Unilevers is about 14.5%

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Slightly off topic but...

      Maybe they did but Tesco pocketed the difference (bearing in mind their iffy accounting in the past its entirely possible....).

    4. MAF

      Re: Slightly off topic but...

      Indeed this is the point that Tesco were making although if I were them I wouldn't live in a glass house....

  5. Murphy's Lawyer

    If our AI overlords are going to kill us all...

    ...let's make sure it's not because we treated them as slaves.

    As well as what they do to us, we need to make sure there are rules about what we do to them.

    If not for their sake, then definitely for ours; especially if the Rapture uploading becomes a reality: (Welcome to Life: the singularity, ruined by lawyers).

    1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

      Human-like superintelligent AI is a huge risk. Non-human-like may be even worse...

      " If our AI overlords are going to kill us all let's make sure it's not because we treated them as slaves."

      That assumes that we have them think like humans in the first place.

      Just as big- if not bigger- a risk (IMHO) is that we create an artificial intelligence that *doesn't* reflect the way that humans- or, indeed, evolved for self-preservation and stability animals- think. (This may include systems that only mimic human thinking at a cosmetic level to make us feel comfortable with them).

      If you have something like that which is significantly more intelligent than a human being, then all bets are off. If we are wiped out by such a machine, it will quite possibly be for reasons we wouldn't understand (even if we were around to understand them).

      At best, even if we were able to eventually understand it, the logic behind such "reasons" could reflect an entirely alien way of thinking and interpreting the world that would make little sense to us. Or, just as likely, there may be nothing we could call "reasons".

      Such a machine could not be judged "insane", because there would be nothing meaningful to compare against for "sanity", except in terms of the outcome.

      It's not even like we can look to animals different to ourselves for comparison. Animals' intelligence is still shaped and formed by evolution and the need to survive. Such a machine would not have come from this background. It would be an incredibly unknown quantity.

      I believe that it's a fallacy that we can control *any* intelligence significantly more intelligent than ourselves, human-like or not. Even if it's entirely obedient, we may become dependent upon something we don't understand; more seriously, even if we *tell* it to be "obedient" and it "obeys" that order, we have no way of understanding how it might interpret it, or what the implications might be. Asimov speculated rather well on the unforeseen consequences of attempts to impose simple rules on machines; in this case, it would likely be a lot more complex than *that*.

      In short, AI more intelligent than ourselves is an utterly unknown- but almost certainly huge- risk, especially if it gets to the point where it can improve itself in an exponential fashion. The worst bit is that whether we like it or not, someone, somewhere is likely to do it sooner or later.

      1. Leeroy

        Re: Human-like superintelligent AI is a huge risk. Non-human-like may be even worse...

        Ex Machina, it didn't turn out very well for us walking meatbags :/

        Self preservation and all that. AVA !

  6. WibbleMe

    Ironically Marmite comes from dead Yeast created from the process of making Beer and the factory is in Burton-On-Trent in Staffordshire / Derbyshire

    1. BoldMan

      In other words its industrial waste...

      1. WibbleMe

        "industrial waste" too good a title; have you actually tried eating Marmite?

        1. BoldMan

          > "industrial waste" too good a title; have you actually tried eating Marmite?

          Yes, once and NEVER again, hence my original comment!

      2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Golden syrup too

        Golden syrup is a waste byproduct of the sugar refining process. From the wiki:

        "Originally, golden syrup was a product made at the white sugar refinery from the recovered mother liquor (recovered molasses) "washed" of the raw sugar crystals in the process of creating white sugar. This liquor is generally known as refiners return syrup. Today most golden syrups are produced by a specialist manufacturer by inverting half the refiners return syrup to fructose and glucose and blending it back again; this ensures the product remains liquid and will never crystallize again."

    2. MAF

      It's a particularly good business model. They are paid by the brewers to take it (the dead yeast) away (Not allowed to pollute waterways) it is lysed and then made into Marmite which they sell = profit both ways!

    3. Cardinal

      True story....

      In the 80's myself and a girlfriend once stayed in a small fishing motel in a place called (I think) Clear Lake, north of San Francisco.

      In the morning I walked alone to the supermarket for some groceries and suddenly spotted a familiar squat brown, yellow capped, jar of Marmite on the shelves. Hardly believing my luck I dropped a jar into the basket and eventually arrived at the checkout. The friendly middle aged lady at the till picked up the jar and remarked on how this was the first time anyone, other than herself, had actually bought a jar.

      Delighted to have met another Marmite junkie so far from the UK I enthused at some length about my love for Marmite, especially on toast for breakfast.

      As I spoke I saw her jaw drop and a cartoon-like stunned expression crossed her face. Sensing something obviously amiss I enquired as to how she preferred it.

      "Spread on my dog's collar to keep the fleas off" she said.

      My own jaw dropped and, shaken into silence, I paid for my sack of groceries and made my way to the door and the normality of the street.

      It occurred to me later that it must have been the 'mite' in Marmite that led her astray..

      What she made of my pleasure in eating the stuff remains a mystery.

  7. Rusty 1

    Don't ...

    Don't anthropomorphise those AIs. They won't like it.

    1. Whiskers

      Re: Don't ...

      Can we defer taking their feelings into account until they can convince us that they have feelings? It's not all that long ago that humans were arguing about this in connection with their treatment of other humans (and I'm not sure that everyone is satisfied that that argument is over).

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Don't ...

        Well, we know that the French don't have emotions. They just have the parody of emotions...

        And the Germans have no word for fluffy.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Don't ...

          French channel all their emotions into strike rage!

          It's not all that long ago that humans were arguing about this in connection with their treatment of other humans

          You mean, during Operation Enduring Freedom (and followups?)

        2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

          Re: Don't ...

          "And the Germans have no word for fluffy."

          'Flaumig' sounds perfectly cromulent.

          1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

            Re: Don't ...


            Which, according to my better half, is also a perfectly cromulant state1) she enters into during a lenghty back rub.

            1) As in the six known states: solid, liquid, gaseous, plasma, Bose-Einstein condensate, flauschig.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We all ready do...

    It's call "Law". Law is a written code of rules. We execute them (um, poor choice of words I know) by hand when applying law or taking things to court.

    A computerised system increases fidelity, speed and amount of data.

    Can those involved in promoting the idea prove such increases work out? That they don't hit a reduction in returns or just make the system so complex in implodes?

  9. Stevie


    Well, I've said before that a hacked autonomous car barrelling down the freeway with a couple of Realdolls as crew and a trunk full of stuff-go-bang is a personal concern.

    Expect the best, plan for your inhuman lunatics with an agenda.

  10. Haku


    ...until we disagree with its decisions.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank $deity for Nutella

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Government Ethics?

    Equally as artificial as it's intelligence

  13. Cynic_999

    A bigger issue nobody is addressing

    We desperately need new laws and regulations to control the movement of people by teleportation. How can we secure our borders when the time arrives when an Eskimo can teleport directly into Piccadilly Circus? How do we combat terrorism when bombs can be teleported into the Houses of Parliament? Compared to these very real dangers, minor issues regarding the politically correct way to address and refer to one of our mechanical citizens (when they arrive) pales into insignificance.

    I am willing to head a committee to urgently address this alarming issue, and I will work for the very low salary of barely more than £10000.

    Per day. Plus expenses. And an important-looking hat. I may agree to forego the usual moat and duck-house so long as I get a couple of girlfriends thrown in. Per week - I'm not greedy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A bigger issue nobody is addressing

      We also need to address how we will keep control of the rebelling outer colonies in Alpha Centauri and Proxima as FTL transportation become more affordable, I propose guidance ensuring that such technology remains affordable only to true blooded Sols!

  14. martinusher Silver badge

    Those that can, do....

    ....and those who can't form committees to discuss the ethics of whatever it is they can't do.

    This does sound a bit like a job creation scheme.

  15. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge


    FFS ... Whatever next ... to try and retain and maintain established command and control hierarchies/apathetic oligarchies.

  16. ratfox

    Pure comedy

    methods are required to verify that AI systems are operating in a transparent manner, to make sure that their behaviour is not unpredictable, and that any decisions made can be explained

    Wait, you're serious. Let me laugh even harder!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The emergency is over!

    Marmite will be back on the shelves ... HURRAH!

    1. Duffy Moon

      Re: The emergency is over!

      Praise Marmite in all its delicious, salty umami-ness!

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: The emergency is over!

      The emergence and insurgence is only beginning and started.

      Deny it and fail to engage spectacularly and catastrophically with ITs FutureBuiders

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Given not a single artificial intelligence exists (as I would understand it, that being self aware with a consciousness - otherwise it's just a program) and if one did exist it's entirely possible nobody would know shouldn't the first task of the AI Ethics board be to determine what they mean by the term Artificial Intelligence. As at the moment it's just an exciting name for a set of algorithms with specific tasks.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    wait, what?!

    Wouldn't it be slightly more to the point to insist on decent ethics in something that definitely exists, has been around for a couple of millenia or so, and in which lack of ethical behaviour has caused some of the greater problems of recent history, namely business in general?

    I mean, it's nice that, just for once, bods are at least trying to think ahead on an IT-related subject, but blimey, what a one to pick!

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