Rishi Sunak and robot with UK flag in the background

Sunak vows to establish AI ‘guardrails’

Image credit: Dreamstime and Canva

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has spoken about the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) tools but said “guardrails” will be put in place to limit the technology's risks.

The Prime Minister has travelled to Hiroshima, Japan, where he is expected to speak to the countries present at the G7 summit about the need for a global approach to regulating AI technologies. 

Speaking with journalists on the plane to Tokyo, Sunak said that AI is beneficial to the UK but must be introduced “safely and securely with guardrails in place”.

“We have taken a deliberately iterative approach because the technology is evolving quickly and we want to make sure that our regulation can evolve as it does as well,” he said.

“I think that the UK has a track record of being in a leadership position and bringing people together, particularly in regard to technological regulation in the online safety bill … And again, the companies themselves, in that instance as well, have worked with us and looked to us to provide those guardrails as they will do and have done on AI.”

The statement comes amid growing concerns over the rapid development of generative AI. Over the last few months, AI-powered chatbots such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT have seen a dramatic rise in popularity. These free tools can generate text in response to a prompt, including articles, essays, jokes and even poetry. A study published in January showed ChatGPT was able to pass a law exam, scoring an overall grade of C+.

Sunak has long been an advocate of the potential of AI technologies, supporting the publication of the government’s policy paper on the technology less than two months ago, titled 'A pro-innovation approach to AI regulation'.

However, in light of BT's announcement that the company plans to cut up to 55,000 jobs by the end of the decade and replace some with AI and automated services, the Prime Minister seems to have taken a more cautious approach. 

“If it’s used safely, if it’s used securely, obviously there are benefits from artificial intelligence for growing our economy, for transforming our society, improving public services,” Sunak said. “But, as I say, that has to be done safely and securely, and with guardrails in place, and that has been our regulatory approach.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson added: “There’s a recognition that AI is a problem that can’t be solved by any one country acting unilaterally. The UK’s approach is meant to be nimble and iterative because of the nature of AI.

“The starting point for us is safety and reassuring the public they can have the confidence in how AI is being used on their behalf.”

The rise in popularity of next-generation AI models – as well as the concerns about their safety – have led governments to take different approaches to regulating this technology. Some, like Italy, opted to issue a temporary ban on the technology, while China has unveiled draft measures to make companies responsible for the data used to train generative AI models. In contrast, El Salvador has decided to promote the development of these technologies by providing significant tax benefits

The UK, in turn, has begun designing ‘light touch’ regulatory frameworks regarding the safe use of AI. Last month, the government also announced a £100m investment in a new Foundation Model Taskforce, modelled after the Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce, which will focus on the research and development of “safe and reliable” foundational models, a type of AI used by chatbots such as ChatGPT.

In April, notable technology figures including Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak signed an open letter warning that AI labs were locked in an “out-of-control race” and calling for a six-month pause on all large-scale AI experiments. 

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