UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Britain pitched itself to the world Friday as a ready leader in shaping an international response to the rise of artificial intelligence, with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden telling the U.N. General Assembly his country was “determined to be in the vanguard.”
Touting the United Kingdom’s tech companies, its universities and even Industrial Revolution-era innovations, he said the nation has “the grounding to make AI a success and make it safe.” He went on to suggest that a British AI task force, which is working on methods for assessing AI systems’ vulnerability, could develop expertise to offer internationally.
His remarks at the assembly’s annual meeting of world leaders previewed an AI safety summit that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is convening in November. Dowden’s speech also came as other countries and multinational groups — including the European Union, the bloc that Britain left in 2020 — are making moves on artificial intelligence.
The EU this year passed pioneering regulations that set requirements and controls based on the level of risk that any given AI system poses, from low (such as spam filters) to unacceptable (for example, an interactive, children’s toy that talks up dangerous activities).
The U.N., meanwhile, is pulling together an advisory board to make recommendations on structuring international rules for artificial intelligence. Members will be appointed this month, Secretary-General António Guterres told the General Assembly on Tuesday; the group’s first take on a report is due by the end of the year.
Major U.S. tech companies have acknowledged a need for AI regulations, though their ideas on the particulars vary. And in Europe, a roster of big companies ranging from French jetmaker Airbus to to Dutch beer giant Heineken signed an open letter to urging the EU to reconsider its rules, saying it would put European companies at a disadvantage.
“The starting gun has been fired on a globally competitive race in which individual companies as well as countries will strive to push the boundaries as far and fast as possible,” Dowden said. He argued that “the most important actions we will take will be international.”
Listing hoped-for benefits — such improving disease detection and productivity — alongside artificial intelligence’s potential to wreak havoc with deepfakes, cyberattacks and more, Dowden urged leaders not to get “trapped in debates about whether AI is a tool for good or a tool for ill.”
“It will be a tool for both,” he said.
It’s “exciting. Daunting. Inexorable,” Dowden said, and the technology will test the international community “to show that it can work together on a question that will help to define the fate of humanity.”