UK convinces nations to sign Bletchley Declaration in bid for AI safety

Tech leaders and politicos descend on Britland to thrash out regulation and governance

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak today opened the global AI Safety Summit hosted in Britain, with guests including tech CEOs and heads of other nations set to discuss ways to keep the world safe amid AI development.

"I'm completely confident in telling you the UK is doing far more than other countries to keep you safe," said Sunak, perhaps in an attempt to fan the dying embers of his unpopular government.

It fell to the newly formed Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to fill in the blanks. Hosting the US, France, Singapore, Italy, Japan, and China at Bletchley Park, birthplace of the UK's World War II Colossus machine, which was co-designed by computer pioneer Alan Turing, the department aimed to create a small group comprised of AI companies, civil societies, and independent experts "to kickstart urgent talks on the risks and opportunities posed by rapid advances in frontier AI – especially ahead of new models launching next year, whose capabilities may not be fully understood."

The two-day summit will focus on understanding the risks, such as potential threats to national security, right through to the dangers that losing control of the technology could bring.

Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, is hosting talks to identify "risks, opportunities and the need for international collaboration, before highlighting consensus on the scale, importance and urgency for AI opportunities and the necessity for mitigating frontier AI risks to unlock them."

"AI is already an extraordinary force for good in our society, with limitless opportunity to grow the global economy, deliver better public services and tackle some of the world's biggest challenges," she said. "But the risks posed by frontier AI are serious and substantive and it is critical that we work together, both across sectors and countries, to recognize these risks."

Twenty-eight countries and the EU signed up to a so-called Bletchley Declaration, which set an agenda for addressing AI risk. Included was a desire to identify AI safety risks of shared concern and build a "shared scientific and evidence-based understanding of these risks."

Also among the joint ambitions were "building respective risk-based policies across our countries to ensure safety in light of such risks, collaborating as appropriate while recognising our approaches may differ based on national circumstances and applicable legal frameworks."

"In furtherance of this agenda, we resolve to support an internationally inclusive network of scientific research on frontier AI safety that encompasses and complements existing and new multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral collaboration, including through existing international fora and other relevant initiatives, to facilitate the provision of the best science available for policy making and the public good," the declaration states.

Observers might note that the declaration's contents hardly amount to concrete, practical commitments, while the UK's ambition to eke out international relevance as an AI governance go-between must confront the fact that the United States, the Group of Seven industrialized nations, and the European Union all have their own plans, and something of a head start.

The ministerial hosts tried to inject some tech industry razzle-dazzle into the proceedings with the presence of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and popular podcast guest Elon Musk. Sunak is set to interview the rocket man to get the views of an electric car salesman who paid $44 billion for a social media platform now worth $19 billion. Musk also co-founded OpenAI and new company X.AI. ®

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