Why the UK summit on AI is not enough to regulate the tech

2 Nov 2023

Rishi Sunak greets Ursula von der Leyen on day two of the UK AI Summit at Bletchley Park. Image: Simon Dawson (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 DEED)

Rishi Sunak is missing a ‘golden opportunity’ to lead the international regulation of AI, experts have warned.

All eyes are on the UK this week as it hosts the world’s first major AI Safety Summit to promote greater international collaboration on the emerging technology.

Perhaps the most significant outcome of the summit so far, the Bletchley Declaration, marks an agreement between some of the world’s major powers to work together in regulating AI. But the moment begs the question: is it serious or just another political gimmick?

Martha Bennett, VP and principal analyst at Forrester, says the Bletchley Declaration won’t have any “real impact” on how AI is regulated. The EU already has the AI Act in the works, while US president Joe Biden signed an executive order on AI this week, both of which, she argues, “contain more substance” than the declaration signed at the AI Safety Summit yesterday.

“More importantly, there’s no way all of the countries and entities represented at the AI summit would have agreed to the text of the Bletchley Declaration if it contained any meaningful detail on how AI should be regulated,” Bennet tells SiliconRepublic.com.

But does this render UK prime minister Rishi Sunak’s efforts to get the ball rolling on international AI cooperation futile? Not quite.

“The summit and the Bletchley Declaration are more about setting signals and demonstrating willingness to co-operate, and that’s important,” Bennett goes on. “We’ll have to wait and see whether good intentions are followed by meaningful action.”

No global AI research body

Signed by the governments of 28 countries – including Ireland, the US and China – as well as the European Union, the Bletchley Declaration was signed as part of the AI Safety Summit that boasts US vice-president Kamala Harris, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and tech billionaire Elon Musk as attendees.

According to the UK government, the declaration, named after the location for the summit, will establish a “shared agreement and responsibility on the risks, opportunities and a forward process for international collaboration on frontier AI safety”.

A noble pursuit by any account, the declaration, Sunak hopes, will achieve its objective through greater scientific collaboration. Bennett said she is not certain how this is to be realised.

“If anybody was hoping that the summit would include an announcement around the establishment of a new global AI research body, those hopes were dashed,” she says, adding that countries are only focusing on their own national efforts for now.

Last week, for instance, Sunak announced the establishment of the “world’s first” AI Safety Institute. And then yesterday, Biden followed suit by creating an AI safety institute, a US-led organisation that works with other similar national initiatives across the world.

“Let’s hope that we’ll see the kind of collaboration between these different institutes that the Bletchley Declaration advocates,” Bennett adds.

Lack of specific regulation

Nigel Green, CEO of international financial consultancy DeVere Group, was less sparing in his comments on the AI Safety Summit, arguing that Sunak is missing a “golden opportunity” to take the lead on regulating artificial intelligence.

“While there’s much talk and debate about the potential for serious, catastrophic harm posed by advanced or frontier AI technology, and even an existential risk to humanity in the coming decades, the talk stops short of urging governments to impose specific regulations,” he argues.

“To be blunt, there is no AI safety without AI regulation of certain sectors, including the financial one. Both need to go hand in hand.”

For Green, because AI is a borderless technology that requires global cooperation and agreement on standards and principles, what is needed is not just a summit on wider safety issues but on specific regulatory ones.

“The summit should have aimed to bring together nations and financial regulators to create a cohesive framework for AI regulation for certain key sectors,” he adds.

“Unfortunately, the lack of consensus is likely to lead to fragmented approaches, with each nation continuing to develop its own rules and guidelines.”

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Rishi Sunak greets Ursula von der Leyen on day two of the UK AI Summit at Bletchley Park. Image: Simon Dawson (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 DEED)

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic