Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has likened the impact artificial intelligence can have to the industrial revolution and the internet but warned about the technology being weaponised by terrorists.
In a far-reaching speech on Thursday to The Royal Society, Sunak announced he would establish the world’s first AI safety institute in the UK but stressed there would be no rush to regulate.
Speaking ahead of the world’s first ever Global AI Safety Summit next week, at Bletchley Park, he said people didn’t need to be ‘losing sleep’ about AI.
The pro-technology PM said artificial intelligence could improve healthcare outcomes, boost productivity and tackle crime.
“Just this morning, I was at Moorfields Eye Hospital,” he told the audience. “They’re using artificial intelligence to build a model that can look at a single picture of your eyes and not only diagnose blindness, but predict heart attacks, strokes, or Parkinson’s.
“I genuinely believe that technologies like AI will bring a transformation as far-reaching as the industrial revolution, the coming of electricity, or the birth of the internet.
“AI will bring new knowledge new opportunities for economic growth, new advances in human capability and the chance to solve problems that we once thought beyond us.”
However Sunak promised to tackle people’s fears ‘head-on’ and took the unusual step of publishing the government’s analysis on the risks of AI, including an assessment by the UK intelligence communities.
He said: “These reports provide a stark warning. Get this wrong, and AI could make it easier to build chemical or biological weapons.
“Terrorist groups could use AI to spread fear and destruction on an even greater scale.
“Criminals could exploit AI for cyber-attacks, disinformation, fraud, or even child sexual abuse.
“And 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’.”
Despite these fears Sunak said he chose innovation over regulation when it came to AI.
“The UK’s answer is not to rush to regulate,” he said. “This is a point of principle – we believe in innovation, it’s a hallmark of the British economy so we will always have a presumption to encourage it, not stifle it.
“Instead, we’re building world-leading capability to understand and evaluate the safety of AI models within government. To do that, we’ve already invested £100m in a new taskforce, more funding for AI safety than any other country in the world.
“We will establish the world’s first AI Safety Institute – right here in the UK. It will advance the world’s knowledge of AI safety. And it will carefully examine, evaluate, and test new types of AI so that we understand what each new model is capable of, exploring all the risks, from social harms like bias and misinformation, through to the most extreme risks of all.”
Sunak also spoke about the importance of next week’s Global AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park and defended the decision to invite China, despite criticism from her predecessor Liz Truss
“There are some who will say they should have been excluded,” he said. “But there can be no serious strategy for AI without at least trying to engage all of the world’s leading AI powers.
“That might not have been the easy thing to do, but it was the right thing to do.”
The Prime Minister called for an ‘international approach to safety’ but said putting the UK at the forefront of this would result in more jobs and investment.
“We’re investing almost a billion pounds in a supercomputer thousands of times faster than the one you have at home,” he said.
“It’s why we’re investing £2.5bn in quantum computers, which can be exponentially quicker than those computers still.
“To understand this, consider how Google’s Sycamore quantum computer can solve a maths problem in 200 seconds, that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years.”
He finished on an upbeat note about the potential good that AI could do.
“Right across the western world, we’re searching for answers to the question of how we can improve and increase our productivity because that’s the only way over the long-term to grow our economy and raise people’s living standards,” to told the audience.
“And in a million different ways, across every aspect of our lives, AI can be that answer.
“In the public sector, we’re clamping down on benefit fraudsters and using AI as a co-pilot to help clear backlogs and radically speed up paperwork.
“In the private sector, start-ups like Robin AI are revolutionising the legal profession writing contracts in minutes, saving businesses and customers time and money.
“AI can help us solve some of the greatest social challenges of our time.
“It can help us finally achieve the promise of nuclear fusion, providing abundant, cheap, clean energy with virtually no emissions.
“It can help us solve world hunger, by making food cheaper and easier to grow and preventing crop failures by accurately predicting when to plant, harvest or water your crops.
“Now I believe nothing in our foreseeable future will be more transformative for our economy, our society, and all our lives, than this technology.”