Rishi Sunak, UK prime minister, wants Britain to become a global centre for artificial intelligence, promising to play a “leadership role” in drawing up “safe and secure” rules to allow the sector to grow.
British officials believe the UK could promote a model of regulation which would be less “draconian” than the approach taken by the EU, while more stringent than any framework in the US.
Sunak said people were rightly concerned by warnings this week from AI pioneers that their new technology could endanger the survival of the human race, but insisted it could bring “massive benefits to the economy and society”.
The prime minister last week met the heads of global AI research groups to discuss regulation and is said by colleagues to be heavily focused on the issue. A white paper on British AI regulation was published in March.
“The information we get from the companies is that the EU is going down quite a draconian route while the US is almost too blase about it,” a senior British official said. “That leaves us in quite a good position in the middle.”
Sunak said on Wednesday that he would discuss AI regulatory “guardrails” with President Joe Biden in Washington next week and said the issue had to be addressed internationally. His talks with the chief executives of leading AI firms OpenAI, Google DeepMind and Anthropic last week included the “existential threats” the technology poses.
“I think the UK can play a leadership role because, ultimately, we’re only going to grapple with this problem and solve it if we work together — not just with the companies, but with countries around the world,” Sunak said.
He said that while AI had recently helped paralysed people to walk and had discovered new antibiotics, the technology had to be regulated in way that was “safe and secure”.
At a time when polls suggest Britons are turning strongly against Brexit, the idea of the UK adopting “nimble” regulation of a new industry will be welcomed by Brexiters. Sunak says AI can play a key role in areas such as health and education.
Sunak’s allies hope that by engaging constructively with the industry at an early stage, Britain will be seen as an attractive location for AI companies, although the economic weight of the US and EU give them far greater clout in devising a global regulatory framework.
Chloe Smith, the secretary of state for science, will host a round table on Thursday with a number of executives from UK-based AI start-ups, including Graphcore, a chip designer; Stability AI, which has an image-generating tool; and Faculty AI, which has previously worked with the Home Office on terrorist detection tools.
Leaders in the tech sector have warned that overregulation could stifle innovation, with Sam Altman, OpenAI’s chief executive, suggesting the maker of ChatGPT could exit Europe over its AI Act, a sweeping set of rules from the EU to regulate artificial intelligence, due to be finalised next year.
“No approach has dealt with the high risks to humanity like extinction, but it is important to make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” said one tech lobbyist.
The UK government is currently consulting on its AI white paper. Julian David, chief executive of techUK, a trade association for the industry, said it provided a “good basis” to engage with both “near-term disruptions” and “hypothetical long-term existential risks.”