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London Tech Week

Everything you need to know about the UK’s first AI Safety Summit

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Bletchley Park, known for its role in World War II codebreaking and the birthplace of the first programable computer, became the venue of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Safety Summit last week in the UK. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosted the landmark AI safety summit, gathering a diverse array of global leaders, tech luminaries, and academics. The summit has been hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough and resulted in a signed international declaration to address the risks AI may present.

Diplomatic triumph

Rishi Sunak’s efforts to convene a wide spectrum of interested parties, including US Vice-President Kamala Harris, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and renowned computer scientists, were seen as a proactive diplomatic move. The presence of prominent figures from academia and industry, along with Elon Musk, underscored the summit’s political and commercial significance. Tino Cuéllar, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, lauded it as a “remarkable achievement” in diplomatic terms.

International declaration

A key highlight of the summit was the signing of an international declaration, backed by more than 25 countries plus the EU. This declaration recognised the imperative to address the intrinsic risks in AI development. These risks include, but are not restricted to, concerns over disinformation, privacy, ethics, and security. More sensationalised fears of AI threatening the very existence of humanity, still a contentious issue within the tech community, were never expected to reach a resolution during a brief two-day summit.

Testing advanced AI models

In a move that signals a new era of collaboration between tech giants and governments, several major technology companies committed to working with an expert Intergovernmental AI panel to assess their advanced AI models before and after they are released. This landmark agreement reflects a shared commitment to ensuring the responsible development and deployment of AI technologies.

Underlining the US’s influence on the global stage, President Joe Biden also issued an executive order this week, mandating tech companies to submit test results for powerful AI systems to the government prior to public release. Vice-President Kamala Harris announced the establishment of an AI safety institute, mirroring a similar announcement by PM Sunak, further cementing the initiative laid out at the summit.

Elon musk’s star power

The attendance of the world’s wealthiest individual, Elon Musk, brought a touch of glamour to the proceedings. While some attendees viewed Musk’s presence as an illustration of a “fear of missing out” owing to his AI startup, xAI, being overshadowed by larger players in the AI arena, there is no denying that his star power drew significant attention to the event.

After the summit’s conclusion, The PM invited him for a streamed informal interview at Downing Street, where Musk’s warning that AI posed “one of the biggest threats to humanity” took centre stage.

Political concerns

Although the summit did not resolve all the existential concerns surrounding AI, with key elections in the US, India, and the UK on the horizon, the focus has shifted to addressing the more immediate risks associated with generative AI such as disinformation. Former UK Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Nick Clegg, now president of global affairs at Meta [formally Facebook], opined that existential fears were being overplayed, and he was more concerned about the immediate threat to democratic polls, stating, “We have some things which we need to deal with now,”

While attending countries display varying approaches to AI regulation, from the EU boasting a four-year head-start on AI regulation to the UK expressing doubts about the viability of immediate regulation due to the industry’s rapid evolution, there was a consensus to the importance of international forums like the Bletchley summit. Such gatherings help define the scope of the problems each country seeks to address, while promoting cooperation in finding effective solutions.

The first Artificial Intelligence (AI) Safety Summit will become part of Rishi Sunak’s legacy as its success has paved the way for France to host the next full-fledged AI safety summit in 2024.

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