Artificial intelligence represents the “greatest opportunity” to make the UK a world leader in technology, says Rishi Sunak – if delivered safely.

Speaking at London Tech Week, the Prime Minister urged tech leaders to grasp a generational opportunity as the “tectonic plates of technology are shifting”.

In March the government published a whitepaper detailing its plan for AI regulation, which was criticised in some quarters for delegating responsibility to a number of existing bodies rather than proposing new tailored regulations.

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“At a moment like this, when the tectonic plates of technology are shifting – not just in AI, but in quantum, synthetic biology, semiconductors, and much more – we cannot rest, satisfied with where we stand,” Sunak said in a speech.

“If our goal is to make this country the best place in the world for tech AI is surely one of the greatest opportunities before us.

“With most things in life, the more you learn about them, the less magical they appear – but the more we learn about frontier technologies like AI, the more they widen our horizons. Already we’ve seen AI help the paralysed to walk and discover superbug-killing antibiotics.

“Combined with the computational power of quantum we could be on the precipice of discovering cures for diseases like cancer and dementia or ways to grow crops that could feed the entire world. The possibilities are extraordinary.”

Last week the government announced that it would host the first global summit on AI safety later this year. It is also launching an expert taskforce on AI foundation models, backed by £100 million in funding, which Sky News reports will be led by startup investor Ian Hogarth, co-founder and former CEO of Songkick, who is a partner at Plural – an investment platform set up for ‘unemployables’.

Last month a British-Canadian scientist dubbed the ‘Godfather of AI’ – Dr Geoffrey Hinton – quit Google after a decade to speak freely about the dangers.

“We must – and we will – do it safely,” continued Sunak. “I know people are concerned. The very pioneers of AI are warning us about the ways these technologies could undermine our values and freedoms through to the most extreme risks of all. 

“That’s why leading on AI also means leading on AI safety. So, we’re building a new partnership between our vibrant academia, brilliant AI companies, and a government that gets it.”

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He said the government would work directly with ‘frontier AI labs’ Google DeepMind, OpenAI – creators of ChatGPT – and Anthropic.

“They’ve committed to give early or priority access to models for research and safety purposes to help build better evaluations and help us better understand the opportunities and risks of these systems.”

He added: “AI can help us achieve the holy grail of public service reform: better, more efficient services.”

Joanna Shields, CEO of Benevolent AI, said: “In domains as complex as life sciences, it is imperative to deploy AI safely and responsibly. We have a limited opportunity to take action. 

“[The government’s] crucial initiatives serve as a solid foundation, and now it is essential for both the public and private sectors to collaborate closely to tackle this monumental challenge and position the UK at the forefront of AI regulation.”

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