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The Bletchley Park summit on AI safety deserves two and a half cheers
By Calum Chace  |  Nov 21, 2023
The Bletchley Park summit on AI safety deserves two and a half cheers
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There was a good deal of scepticism ahead of the summit on AI safety which took place at Bletchley Park earlier this month. Many world leaders decided to stay away, but the doubts about the organisers sticking to their more ambitious goals proved unfounded. For the first time, political leaders have publicly acknowledged the existential risk of advanced AI, and a global conversation is under way.

LONDON - The taboo on saying what many people have been thinking has now been broken. The possibility that artificial intelligence (AI) is an existential risk has now been voiced in public by many of the world’s political leaders. Though the question has been discussed in Silicon Valley and other futurist boltholes for decades, no country’s leader had broached it until last month. That is the lasting legacy of the Bletchley Park summit on AI safety, and it is an important one.

True, it might not be the most important legacy for the man who made the summit happen. According to members of the United Kingdom’s opposition Labour Party, the Conservative Party Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used the event as part of his own push to look for his next job. Faced with chaos in the Tory party - and a potentially damaging inquiry into his role in the management of COVID-19 - he appears to be heading towards catastrophic defeat in the forthcoming general election. The lifestyle of another former British political leader, Nick Clegg - who gets paid a reported USD30 million a year by Facebook to be Mark Zuckerberg’s (not terribly effective) flak catcher - must look attractive to Sunak. His on-stage discussion with Elon Musk after the summit was described by several attending journalists as an embarrassingly fawning job application.

Cynics point to the fact that the summit was attended by very few heads of state. United States President Joe Biden sent his deputy, Vice President Kamala Harris, while Germany’s Chancellor Scholtz and French President Macron were also notable for their absence. The announcement of a UK AI safety institute was upstaged by the announcement - the day before the summit - that the US would do the same. There is room in the world for more than one safety institute, but given that most of the world’s most advanced AI models are developed either by US-owned companies or by Chinese ones, it is obvious which of these two institutes w

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