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Sunak steps up call for UK to lead on AI regulation

Rishi Sunak said artificial intelligence could transform work and public services but was open to misuses by ‘bad actors’.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the power to transform work and public services but measures are needed to protect against the “extreme risks” it could pose, Rishi Sunak has said.

The Prime Minister wants the UK to be home to a global AI regulator and it will host a major summit on the issue in the autumn.

The Prime Minister said there was a concern about the impact on jobs and a “risk of misuse” by “bad actors”, as well as the potential for the technology to act in ways its creators had not expected.

Mr Sunak was speaking alongside Google DeepMind’s boss, Demis Hassabis, a government adviser on AI, who was among industry experts to sign a statement saying that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority”.

It compared the potential risks from the technology to pandemics and nuclear war.

Asked if he believed there was an existential risk, Mr Sunak said there was a concern about the impact on jobs and a “risk of misuse”.

“People have always used technology to do bad things, that’s not a new thing, we just need to be alert to that,” he said in a speech to open London Tech Week.

Then there was “capability overhang” where the technology is capable of things which its creators did not envisage.

That leads to “a space where people are talking about very significant risks that some would call existential, others would say alongside things like pandemics or nuclear war”.

“And that’s obviously concerning. And that’s why I think it’s important that we put guardrails in place to make sure that we develop and exploit this technology in a way that’s safe, and that is secure,” the Prime Minister added.

Mr Sunak said the technology could be useful across the economy with “every job essentially having AI as the co-pilot” and had the potential to transform public services.

Mr Hassabis said: “In the situation where there’s a high degree of uncertainty, but huge potential impact either way, I think the only the right way to proceed is with the precautionary principle.

“Proceed with exceptional care, be optimistic about what we can do with the opportunities, and use things like the scientific method to study and carefully analyse these systems as they get increasingly more powerful in the future.”

Speaking at London Tech Week, Mr Sunak suggested that British company chiefs were less ambitious than their counterparts in California.

“Fundamentally, it requires entrepreneurs to just keep going, to be not content with building the £100 million business and then the £1 billion business but just to keep growing.

“That, I found in California, is very much the attitude, the sky is the limit. Everyone thinks they can create a 100 billion-dollar company and actually changing that culture is tough for government to do.”

Mr Sunak, who is under pressure from within the Tory party to curb net migration, defended having a visa system open to tech entrepreneurs.

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