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China has accepted UK invite to AI summit, says Dowden
26 October 2023, 09:14
The Deputy Prime Minister said that the Government expects China to attend, but would wait and see.
China has accepted an invitation to the UK’s AI safety summit next week, the Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed, with the Government expecting Beijing to attend.
The decision to invite China to the summit had caused controversy in some quarters, at a time when Western relations with the powerful Asian state remain tense despite recent diplomatic outreach by the UK and US.
It comes as Rishi Sunak prepares to use an address in central London to set out how he will address the dangers presented by artificial intelligence while harnessing the benefits amid warnings of a possible existential threat from the emerging technology.
Oliver Dowden said that ministers did expect China to attend the Bletchley Park gathering, but would await and see whether Chinese officials actually arrive for the meeting next week.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is the case that they have accepted but we’ll wait to see everyone who actually turns up at the summit.
“It is the case that you wait and see who actually turns up at these events.”
He added: “We do expect them to come.”
Supporters of inviting China argue that an effective discussion on regulating AI requires the presence of China, which is among the countries hoping to get advantage of possibilities of the powerful technology.
The Prime Minister is expected to warn later that the rapidly expanding technology brings new opportunities for growth and advances as well as “new dangers”.
He will argue he is being responsible by seeking to “address those fears head-on” to give the public the “peace of mind that we will keep you safe”.
A new paper published by the Government Office for Science to accompany the speech says there is insufficient evidence to rule out a threat to humanity from AI.
Based on sources including UK intelligence, it says many experts believe it is a “risk with very low likelihood and few plausible routes”, and would need the technology to “outpace mitigations, gain control over critical systems and be able to avoid being switched off”.
It adds: “Given the significant uncertainty in predicting AI developments, there is insufficient evidence to rule out that highly capable future frontier AI systems, if misaligned or inadequately controlled, could pose an existential threat.”
Three broad pathways to “catastrophic” or existential risks are set out as a self-improving system that can achieve goals in the physical world without oversight working to harm human interests.
The second is a failure of multiple key systems after intense competition leads to one company with a technological edge gaining control and then failing due to safety, controllability and misuse.
Finally, over-reliance was judged to be a threat as humans grant AI more control over critical systems they no longer fully understand and become “irreversibly dependent”.
In his speech on Thursday, Mr Sunak is expected to say AI will bring “new knowledge, new opportunities for economic growth, new advances in human capability, and the chance to solve problems we once thought beyond us”.
“But it also brings new dangers and new fears,” he is expected to add.
“So, the responsible thing for me to do is to address those fears head-on, giving you the peace of mind that we will keep you safe, while making sure you and your children have all the opportunities for a better future that AI can bring.
“Doing the right thing, not the easy thing, means being honest with people about the risks from these technologies.”
In terms of capabilities, the Government’s paper notes that frontier AI can already perform “many economically useful tasks” such as conversing fluently and at length, and be used as a translation tool or to summarise lengthy documents and analyse data.
It suggests that the technology is likely to become substantially more useful in the future, and potentially be able to carry out tasks more efficiently than humans, but it notes that “we cannot currently reliably predict ahead of time which specific new capabilities a frontier AI model will gain” as the ways of training AI models are likely to also change and evolve.
But among the potential risks of the technology, the paper identifies the hugely broad potential use cases of the technology as an issue, arguing it is hard to predict how AI tools could be used and therefore protect against possible problems.
It adds that the current lack of safety standards is a key issue, and warns that AI could “substantially exacerbate existing cyber risks” if misused, potentially able to launch cyber attacks autonomously, although the paper suggests AI-powered defences could mitigate some of this risk.
In addition, it warns that frontier AI could disrupt the labour market by displacing human workers, and could lead to a spike in misinformation through AI-generated images or by unintentionally spreading inaccurate information on which an AI model has been trained.