Tech Insight : UK’s AI Safety Summit : Some Key Takeaways

Following the UK government hosting the first major global summit on AI safety at historic Bletchley Park, we look at some of the key outcomes and comments. 

Summit 

The UK hosted the first major global AI Safety Summit on the 1 and 2 November at Bletchley Park, the historic centre of the UK’s WWII code breaking operation, where the father of modern computer science Alan Turing worked. The summit brought together international governments (of 28 countries plus the EU), leading AI companies, civil society groups and experts in research.  

The aims of the summit were to develop a shared understanding the risks of AI, especially at the frontier of development, and to discuss how they can be mitigated through internationally coordinated action, and of the opportunities that safe AI may bring.  

Some notable attendees included Elon Musk, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, US vice president Kamala Harris, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and Wu Zhaohui, Chinese vice minister of science and tech. 

Key Points 

The two-day summit, which involved individual speakers, panel discussions, and group meetings covered many aspects of AI safety. Some of the key points to take away include: 

– UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced in his opening speech that he and US Vice President Kamala Harris had already decided that the US and UK will establish world-leading AI Safety Institutes to test the most advanced frontier AI models. Mr Sunak said the UK’s Safety Institute will develop its evaluations process in time to assess the next generation of models before they are deployed next year. 

– Days before the summit (thereby setting part of the agenda for the summit), US President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring tech firms to submit test results for powerful AI systems to the US government prior to their release to the public.  At the summit, in response to this, UK tech secretary, Michelle Donelan, made the point that this may not be surprising since most of the main AI companies are based in the US. 

– The U.S. and China, two countries often in opposition, agreed to find global consensus on how to tackle some of the complex questions about AI, such as how to develop it safely and regulate it. 

– In a much-publicised interview with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, X’s Elon Musk described AI as “the most disruptive force in history” and said that “there will come a point where no job is needed”. Mr Musk added: “You can have a job if you wanted to have a job for personal satisfaction. But the AI would be able to do everything.”  Mr Musk said that as a result of this: “One of the challenges in the future will be how do we find meaning in life.” It was also noted by some that Mr Musk had been using his X platform to mock politicians at the AI summit ahead of his headlining interview with the UK Prime Minister. Mr Musk’s comments were perhaps nor surprising given that he was one of the many signatories to an open letter earlier in the year calling for a moratorium on the development of AI more advanced than OpenAI’s GPT-4 software. That said, Mr Musk has just announced the launch of a new AI chatbot called ‘Grok,’ a rival to ChatGPT and Bard, which has real-time knowledge of the world via the X platform, and Mr Musk says has been “designed to answer questions with a bit of wit and has a rebellious streak.” 

– As highlighted by Ian Hogarth, chair of the UK government’s £100m Frontier AI Taskforce, “there’s a wide range of beliefs” about the severity of the most serious risks posed by AI, such as the catastrophic risks of technology outstripping human ability to safeguard society (the existential risk). As such, despite the summit, the idea that AI could wipe out humanity remains a divisive issue. For example, on the first day of the summit, Meta’s president of global affairs and former UK Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said that AI was caught in a “great hype cycle” with fears about it being overplayed. 

– Different countries are moving at different speeds with regards to the regulatory process around AI. For example, the EU started talking about AI four years ago and is now close to passing an AI act, whereas other countries are still some way from this point. 

Criticism 

Although the narrative around the summit was that it was a great global opportunity and step in the righty direction, some commentators have criticised the summit as being a missed opportunity for excluding workers and trade unions, and for simply being an event that was dominated by the already dominant big tech companies. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The speed at which AI technology is moving, mostly ahead of regulation, and with its opportunities and threats (which some believe to be potentially catastrophic), and the fact that no real global framework for co-operation in exploring and controlling AI made this summit (and future ones), inevitable and necessary.

Although it involved representatives from many countries, to some extent it was overshadowed in the media by the dominant personality representing technology companies, i.e. Elon Musk. The summit highlighted divided opinions on the extent of the risks posed by AI but did appear to achieve some potentially important results, such as establishing AI Safety Institutes, plus the US agreeing with China on something for a change. That said, although much focus has been put on the risks posed by AI, it’s worth noting that for the big tech companies, many of whose representatives were there, AI is something they’re heavily invested in as the next major source of revenue and to compete with each other, and that governments also have commercial, as well as political interest in AI.

It’s also worth noting critics’ concerns that the summit was really a meeting of the already dominant tech companies and governments and not workers, many of whom may be most directly affected by continuing AI developments. With each week, it seems, there’s a new AI development, and whether concerns are over-hyped (as Nick Clegg suggests) or fully justified, nobody really knows as yet.

Many would agree, however, that countries getting together to focus on the issues and understand the subject and its implications and agree on measures that could mitigate risks and maximise the opportunities and benefits of AI going forward is positive and to be expected at this point. 

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