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Rishi Sunak warns that AI risks could be on the scale of ‘pandemics and nuclear war’ – but insists we shouldn’t be ‘alarmist’ about it – as he kicks off second day of Bletchley Park summit


Rishi Sunak today warned that AI could pose a risk on the scale of ‘pandemics and nuclear war‘ – but stressed that people should not be ‘alarmist’.

The Prime Minister delivered a stark message about the consequences of failing to engage with the emerging technology now as he kicked off the second day of the Bletchley Park summit.

Mr Sunak is hosting representatives from 27 countries alongside tech companies and civic society groups at the home of Britain’s wartime codebreaking operation.

Ministers have been trying to play up the potential positives from AI, but Mr Sunak underlined the difficulties of the message as he arrived this morning. 

Asked whether a Terminator-style rise of the machines is possible, he said: ‘People developing this technology themselves have raised the risk that AI may pose and it’s important to not be alarmist about this.

‘There’s debate about this topic. People in the industry themselves don’t agree and we can’t be certain.’

Rishi Sunak delivered a stark message about the consequences of failing to engage with the emerging technology now as he kicked off the second day of the Bletchley Park summit

The PM is hosting representatives from 27 countries alongside tech companies and civic society groups at the home of Britain's wartime codebreaking operation

The PM is hosting representatives from 27 countries alongside tech companies and civic society groups at the home of Britain’s wartime codebreaking operation

Elon Musk

Kamala Harris

Billionaire Elon Musk and US vice president Kamala Harris are among those at the summit

The PM added: ‘But there is a case to believe that it may pose a risk on a scale like pandemics and nuclear war, and that’s why, as leaders, we have a responsibility to act to take the steps to protect people, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.’

Sessions today will include a discussion on hacking, before the premier holds a press conference and is interviewed tonight by billionaire Elon Musk – who has cautioned of the ‘existential’ threat posed by AI becoming more intelligent than humans. 

Among leading world figures Mr Sunak welcomed to the summit today were European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres.

Mr Sunak said he was ‘delighted to be working so closely’ with Ms von der Leyen in discussing AI.

He also suggested they would also talk about ‘tackling illegal migration’ during their bilateral meeting at Bletchley Park.

‘You’ve taken the lead in putting AI on the agenda… I’m delighted that we’re working so closely together, together with the Americans and other countries,’ he said.

The PM was also due to have one-on-one talks with Mr Guterres about the Middle East crisis on the sidelines of the summit.

‘We’re delighted to have this conversation about making sure we manage the risks so we enjoy the benefits, but I know we’ll also discuss the situation in Gaza where the UK is working closely with the UN to bring aid in to the people who need it as quickly as we can,’ Mr Sunak said.

‘It’s a warm welcome to you being here.’

Among leading world figures Mr Sunak welcomed to the summit today were United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres

Among leading world figures Mr Sunak welcomed to the summit today were United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres

Mr Sunak said he was 'delighted to be working so closely' with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in discussing AI

Mr Sunak said he was ‘delighted to be working so closely’ with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in discussing AI

Michelle Donelan, the Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary, said that a sci-fi style loss of control of AI was her biggest concern

Michelle Donelan, the Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary, said that a sci-fi style loss of control of AI was her biggest concern

Michelle Donelan, the Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary, earlier said that a sci-fi style loss of control of AI was her biggest concern.

‘That is a risk that is much more hypothetical in nature, that naturally is the one that I am most concerned about because it is the one that would result in the gravest ramifications,’ she said.

Put to her that was the ‘Terminator scenario’ – a reference to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film where machines take over the world – she said: ‘Well, that is one potential area where it could lead but there are several stages before that.’

In a statement overnight, Mr Sunak said: ‘I believe there will be nothing more transformative to the futures of our children and grandchildren than technological advances like AI.

‘We owe it to them to ensure AI develops in a safe and responsible way, gripping the risks it poses early enough in the process.’

Speaking to the BBC last night Mr Sunak warned companies could not be left to ‘mark their own homework’.

The first day of the summit saw delegations from around the world, including the US and China, agree the so-called ‘Bletchley declaration’ – a statement on the risks surrounding the technology, intended to be used as the starting point for a global conversation on the issue.

AI summits are expected to be held twice a year from now on, with the next slated for South Korea. 

US vice president Kamala Harris, who met Mr Sunak in Downing Street last night, will be among attendees today after President Joe Biden stayed away.

French President Emmanuel Macron is also not present at the summit, though Downing Street has denied the absences amount to a snub by world leaders.

Nick Clegg, the former Liberal Democrat leader who is now president of global affairs at Facebook parent company Meta, insisted yesterday that the threat to humanity from AI was overblown.

He argued that government and industry should be focusing on more near-term dangers such as the tech being used to meddle in elections. 

Nick Clegg (centre), the former Liberal Democrat leader who is now president of global affairs at Facebook parent company Meta, insisted yesterday that the threat to humanity from AI was overblown

Nick Clegg (centre), the former Liberal Democrat leader who is now president of global affairs at Facebook parent company Meta, insisted yesterday that the threat to humanity from AI was overblown

However, Mr Musk said he believes AI is ‘one of the biggest threats’ to civilisation praising the summit as ‘timely’.

He said it was an ‘existential risk’ because humans for the first time were faced with something ‘that is going to be far more intelligent than us’.

Speaking to ITV’s Peston programme, Mr Sunak expressed delight at Mr Musk attending the summit – given his ‘long track record’ in the sector.

Told Mr Musk mentions the extinction risk regularly, Mr Sunak replied: ‘What he and others have said is that we can’t be certain, no-one can know with certainty about those types of risks. But people have said there is a potential for AI to pose risks that are like pandemics or nuclear wars.

‘Now, even if that’s a small possibility, and there is uncertainty about that because many experts say that that is not remotely going to happen, but even if it’s a small possibility, because it’s such a significant risk, it’s right that leaders like me take the steps to protect our countries.

‘And that’s what I’ve done there. I’ve taken a lead, globally, in making sure that we can protect the British public against these risks, however small they might be, so that we can focus on getting the benefits of AI for our families, and health and education, and not worry about those things.’



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