Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media during his visit to Washington DC in the US

UK will host global summit on AI safety, Sunak reveals

Image credit: PA Media

The summit is expected to address the safety concerns that come with the rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

During a visit to Washington DC, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that Britain will host the first major global summit on AI safety this autumn. 

The conference will aim to provide a space for "key countries, leading tech companies and researchers" to consider the risks of AI systems and discuss how they can be mitigated through internationally coordinated action, the British government said in a statement.

“AI has an incredible potential to transform our lives for the better," Sunak said. "But we need to make sure it is developed and used in a way that is safe and secure.

“Time and time again throughout history we have invented paradigm-shifting new technologies and we have harnessed them for the good of humanity. That is what we must do again."

The Prime Minister claimed the UK was the "natural place" to lead the conversation on AI during a news conference in Washington, where he is expected to discuss the dangers of the technology with US President Joe Biden. 

Sunak also clapped back against reporters that suggested that there was little that a mid-sized country such as the UK could achieve when economic giants such as the United States and the European Union were already working to develop guardrails for the technology.

“That mid-size country happens to be a global leader in AI,” he said. “You would be hard-pressed to find many other countries other than the US in the western world with more expertise and talent in AI."

He added that “historically the UK has got it right when we are trying to balance innovation with making sure the new technology is safe for society”.

The news follows a warning from the Centre for AI Safety, whose experts stated that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war”.

Following Sunak's announcement, US tech giant Palantir is expected to announce its plans to make the UK its new European HQ for AI development.

“London is a magnet for the best software engineering talent in the world, and it is the natural choice as the hub for our European efforts to develop the most effective and ethical artificial intelligence software solutions available,” said Palantir chief executive Alex Karp.

During his Washington visit, Sunak is expected to have wide-ranging discussions with Biden on the UK-US relationship and how the two countries could work together to strengthen their economies and cement their "joint leadership in the technologies of the future", the government said.

The UK's AI sector already contributes £3.7bn to the UK economy and employs 50,000 people across the country, according to official figures. 

The country has already taken steps towards developing ‘light touch’ regulatory frameworks regarding the safe use of AI. This includes the creation of a £100m 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

Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO of O’Reilly has commented: “It’s encouraging that the UK wants to become a global hub for developing international regulation of AI. This is a step in the right direction to ensure international alignment. However, the nature of that regulation is likely to be a long exercise, with a great deal of debate. 

"In any case, simply providing general assurances about a commitment to safe and responsible AI is unacceptable. We need a comprehensive set of metrics that will be reported regularly and consistently to regulators and the public, as well as a process for updating those metrics as new best practices emerge. Through these disclosures, companies, regulators, and guardians of the public interest can learn together how these systems work, how best they can be managed, and what the systemic risks really might be."

Last month, 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. 

Edited at 2pm to include comments from Tim O'Reilly.

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