The great powers signed up to Sunak’s AI summit – while jostling for position

British officials thought they had achieved a diplomatic success while sitting in a specialized hut on the grounds of the historic Bletchley Park estate.

The UK’s technology secretary, Michelle Donelan, was on stage with high-level representatives from the US and China. They were gathered for the first time to discuss the global regulation of artificial intelligence.

Furthermore, both nations were included in a group of 28 who signed the “Bletchley declaration”, which established a joint effort to establish safety regulations that could potentially prevent AI systems from posing a threat to humanity.

On Thursday, Rishi Sunak stated that there were those who advised against inviting China and believed that reaching an agreement with them was impossible. However, both of these opinions were proven incorrect. A comprehensive approach to ensuring AI safety must involve collaboration with all major AI leaders, and the Bletchley Park communique has been signed by all of them.

The delegates were pleased to see that China was not only in attendance, but also actively participating in the discussions. However, officials from Beijing were not invited to the more sensitive discussions on the second day.

The British team, headed by experienced negotiator Jonathan Black and tech investor Matt Clifford, worked diligently to convince Beijing to participate in the summit and agree to the communique. This included securing permission for officials to attend both days of the event.

Despite the friendly appearances in diplomacy, there are indications that the top global powers are competing for dominance. Each one desires to be the leading authority in establishing regulations for the development of AI, recognizing that it could also benefit their own national interests and corporations.

Certain officials in the United Kingdom had desired to receive global approval for utilizing their AI taskforce as a central location for trialing new systems before making them available to the general public. However, instead of this, Gina Raimondo, the Secretary of Commerce in the United States, declared that her government will establish its own institute for this purpose and that the two nations will collaborate closely.

Prior to the start of the summit, Joe Biden released an executive order regarding AI, which British diplomats noted aided in directing conversations at Bletchley.

Closeup of Rishi Sunak addressing the summit

The European Union (EU) is currently making progress in creating their own set of regulations for artificial intelligence (AI). Věra Jourová, the vice-president for values and transparency at the European Commission, stated that the UK is lagging behind due to their own choice. On the other hand, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak believes it is premature to introduce legislation. He expressed, “It is not possible to create laws that are effective for a technology that we have yet to fully comprehend.” This statement was made last week.

There are differing opinions on the handling of open-source AI, which permits individuals to utilize and create new models. The British and American governments express concerns about the potential for widespread social harm, while the French show more enthusiasm towards its potential. Yann LeCun, a French AI pioneer and chief AI scientist at Meta (Facebook’s parent company), strongly advocates for open-source AI.

Tino Cuellar, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who participated in the summit, stated that there are certain countries, such as France in the European Union and some in the global south, that have a general interest in making this technology available to multiple countries.

However, representatives from multiple nations are confident that they are establishing a foundation for a system that can unite different types of domestic regulations.

On Thursday, Sunak declared that nations worldwide had reached an agreement to establish an international team of experts to assess the capabilities of AI, similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Additionally, companies have consented to government oversight of their advanced AI models for safety purposes, although this will not be mandatory.

Some compare the likely new system to air traffic control rules, where certain minimum standards are accepted across the developed world but countries are free to insist on stricter standards. Others speak of building something more like the drug approvals process, where certain countries accept the decisions made by each other’s regulators.

On Thursday, attendees at the primary summit location reported that it was only half occupied. Many influential guests, such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, chose to participate remotely.

However, numerous individuals in the field were pleased to witness global leaders addressing the dangers they have been cautioning about in private, and in certain instances, publicly, for an extended period of time.

Max Tegmark, a key figure in the campaign to pause advanced AI development, said: “I’ve been working for about 10 years, hoping that one day there would be an international summit on AI safety. Seeing it actually happen with my own eyes – and done so surprisingly well – was actually very moving.”