The UK is gearing up for a pivotal summit on AI. Here’s what you need to know

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech on artificial intelligence at the Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace, on Oct. 26, 2023, in London.

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The U.K. is set to hold its landmark artificial intelligence summit this week, as political leaders and regulators grow more and more concerned by the rapid advancement of the technology.

The two-day summit, which takes place on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, will host government officials and companies from around the world, including the U.S. and China, two superpowers in the race to develop cutting-edge AI technologies.

It is Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s chance to make a statement to the world on the U.K.’s role in the global conversation surrounding AI, and how the technology should be regulated.

Ever since the introduction of Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the race toward the regulation of AI from global policymakers has intensified.

Of particular concern is the potential for the technology to replace — or undermine — human intelligence.

Where it’s being held

The AI summit will be held in Bletchley Park, the historic landmark around 55 miles north of London.

Bletchley Park was a codebreaking facility during World War II.


It’s the location where, in 1941, a group of codebreakers led by British scientist and mathematician Alan Turing cracked Nazi Germany’s notorious Enigma machine.

It’s also no secret that the U.K. is holding the summit at Bletchley Park because of the site’s historical significance — it sends a clear message that the U.K. wants to reinforce its position as a global leader in innovation.

What it seeks to address

The main objective of the U.K. AI summit is to find some level of international coordination when it comes to agreeing some principles on the ethical and responsible development of AI models.

The summit is squarely focused on so-called “frontier AI” models — in other words, the advanced large language models, or LLMs, like those developed by companies such as OpenAI, Anthropic, and Cohere.

It will look to address two key categories of risk when it comes to AI: misuse and loss of control.

Misuse risks involve a bad actor being aided by new AI capabilities. For example, a cybercriminal could use AI to develop a new type of malware that cannot be detected by security researchers, or be used to help state actors develop dangerous bioweapons.

Loss of control risks refer to a situation in which the AI that humans create could be turned against them. This could “emerge from advanced systems that we would seek to be aligned with our values and intentions,” the government said.

Who’s going?

Major names in the technology and political world will be there.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during the conclusion of the Investing in America tour at Coppin State University in Baltimore, Maryland, on July 14, 2023.

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They include:

  • Microsoft President Brad Smith
  • OpenAI CEO Sam Altman
  • Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis
  • Meta AI chief Yann LeCun
  • Meta President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg
  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris
  • A Chinese government delegation from the Ministry of Science and Technology
  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

Who won’t be there?

Several leaders have opted not to attend the summit.

French President Emmanuel Macron.

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They include:

  • U.S. President Joe Biden
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • French President Emmanuel Macron
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

When asked whether Sunak feels snubbed by his international counterparts, his spokesperson told reporters Monday, “No, not at all.”

“I think we remain confident that we have brought together the right group of world experts in the AI space, leading businesses and indeed world leaders and representatives who will be able to take on this vital issue,” the spokesperson said.

“This is the first AI safety summit of its kind and I think it is a significant achievement that for the first time people from across the world and indeed from across a range of world leaders and indeed AI experts are coming together to look at these frontier risks.” 

Will it succeed?

The British government wants the AI Summit to serve as a platform to shape the technology’s future. It will emphasize safety, ethics, and responsible development of AI, while also calling for collaboration at a global level.

Sunak is hoping that the summit will provide a chance for Britain and its global counterparts to find some agreement on how best to develop AI safely and responsibly, and apply safeguards to the technology.

In a speech last week, the prime minister warned that AI “will bring a transformation as far reaching as the industrial revolution, the coming of electricity, or the birth of the internet” — while adding there are risks attached.

“In the most unlikely but extreme cases, there is even the risk that humanity could lose control of AI completely through the kind of AI sometimes referred to as super intelligence,” Sunak said.

Sunak announced the U.K. will set up the world’s first AI safety institute to evaluate and test new types of AI in order to understand the risks.

He also said he would seek to set up a global expert panel nominated by countries and organizations attending the AI summit this week, which would publish a state of AI science report.

A particular point of contention surrounding the summit is Sunak’s decision to invite China — which has been at the center of a geopolitical tussle over technology with the U.S. — to the summit. Sunak’s spokesperson has said it is important to invite China, as the country is a world leader in AI.

International coordination on a technology as complex and multifaceted as AI may prove difficult — and it is made all the more so when two of the big attendees, the U.S. and China, are engaged in a tense clash over technology and trade.

China’s President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden at the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian island of Bali on Nov. 14, 2022.

Saul Loeb | Afp | Getty Images

Washington recently curbed sales of Nvidia’s advanced A800 and H800 artificial intelligence chips to China.

Different governments have come up with their own respective proposals for regulating the technology to combat the risks it poses in terms of misinformation, privacy and bias.

The EU is hoping to finalize its AI Act, which is set to be one of the world’s first pieces of legislation targeted specifically at AI, by the end of the year, and adopt the regulation by early 2024 before the June European Parliament elections.

Stateside, Biden on Monday issued an executive order on artificial intelligence, the first of its kind from the U.S. government, calling for safety assessments, equity and civil rights guidance, and research into AI’s impact on the labor market.

James Manyika, senior vice president of research, technology, and society at Google, said AI was a “transformative technology” with potential to help address some of society’s most pressing challenges” — but he added it was vital to ensure the benefits are “broadly distributed.”

“Our hopes for the Summit are twofold. First, that it helps facilitate countries across the world developing a shared understanding of both the near and long-term opportunities and risks of frontier AI models. Second, that it prioritizes international coordination to ensure a consistent approach to AI governance,” ,” Manyika said in emailed comments shared with CNBC ahead of the summit.

Emad Mostaque, CEO of open-source British AI company Stability, said the U.K. has a “once in a generation opportunity to become an AI superpower” and ensure that AI benefits all, not just the Big Tech firms.

“We believe this is best achieved through a shared vision of the positive transformation this technology will unleash as well as a clear understanding of the emerging risks, so that we can innovate with integrity and align our efforts and systems to ensure our safety and security,” Mostaque said.

Shortcomings of the summit

Some tech industry officials think that the summit is too limited in its focus. They say that, by keeping the summit restricted to only frontier AI models, it is a missed opportunity to encourage contributions from members of the tech community beyond frontier AI.

“I do think that by focusing just on frontier models, we’re basically missing a large piece of the jigsaw,” Sachin Dev Duggal, CEO of London-based AI startup, told CNBC in an interview last week.

“By focusing only on companies that are currently building frontier models and are leading that development right now, we’re also saying no one else can come and build the next generation of frontier models.”

Some are frustrated by the summit’s focus on “existential threats” surrounding artificial intelligence and think the government should address more pressing, immediate-term risks, such as the potential for deepfakes to manipulate 2024 elections.

Photo by Carl Court

“It’s like the fire brigade conference where they talk about dealing with a meteor strike that obliterates the country,” Stefan van Grieken, CEO of generative AI firm Cradle, told CNBC.

“We should be concentrating on the real fires that are literally present threats.”

However, Marc Warner, CEO of British AI startup, said he believes that focusing on the long-term, potentially devastating risks of achieving artificial general intelligence to be “very reasonable.”

“I think that building artificial general intelligence will be possible, and I think if it is possible, there is no scientific reason that we know of right now to say that it’s guaranteed safe,” Warner told CNBC.

“In some ways, it’s sort of the dream scenario that governments tackle something before it’s a problem rather than waiting until stuff gets really bad.”

Source – CNBC