World must pass ‘AI stress test’, UK Deputy PM says, announcing summit

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden of the United Kingdom addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s 78th session.
UN Photo/Cia Pak
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden of the United Kingdom addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s 78th session.
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Mr. Dowden said the so-named AI Safety Summit, set for November, will aim to preempt the risks posed by frontier AI and explore how it can be used for the public good.

“AI is the biggest transformation the world has known,” he emphasized, noting that it is going to change everything we do, the way we live, relations between nations, and it is going to change the United Nations, fundamentally.

“Our task as governments is to understand it, grasp it, and seek to govern it, and we must do so at great speed,” he stressed.

We don’t know its boundaries

Mr. Dowden drew parallels between the work of inventors Thomas Edison (lightbulb) and Tim Berners-Lee (email) and the potential of artificial intelligence today.

“They could not – surely – have respectively envisaged the illumination of the New York skyline at night or the wonders of the modern internet … but they suspected the transformative power of their inventions.”

He emphasized that frontier AI has the potential not just to similarly transform our lives, but to reimagine our understanding of science, from decoding the smallest particles to the farthest reaches of the universe.

Opportunities v. risks

One of the main concerns highlighted by the Deputy Prime Minister is the unprecedented speed at which AI is evolving, with the pace having far-reaching implications, both in terms of the opportunities it presents and the risks it poses.

On the positive side, AI models currently under development could play a pivotal role in addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges: clean energy, climate action, food production or detecting diseases and pandemics.

“In fact, every single challenge discussed at this year’s General Assembly – and more – could be improved or even solved by AI,” he stated.

However, amidst the promise of AI, Mr. Dowden also sounded a cautionary note, underscoring the dangers of misuse, citing examples such as hacking, cyberattacks, deepfakes and the potential loss of control over AI systems.

“Indeed, many argue this technology is like no other, in the sense that its creators themselves don’t know how it works … the principal will therefore come from misuse, misadventure, or misalignment with human objectives,” he added.

“There is no future in which this technology does not develop at an extraordinary pace,” he said, and while companies were doing their best to set up guardrails, “the starting gun has been fired on a globally competitive race in which individual companies as well as countries will strive to push the boundaries as far and fast as possible.”

Objectives of the AI summit

Against this backdrop, the AI Safety Summit will focus on addressing extreme risks associated with frontier AI, the Deputy Prime Minister said.

The summit aims to bring together experts, policymakers and stakeholders to explore strategies for mitigating these risks while harnessing the positive potential of AI for public good.

“We cannot afford to become trapped in debates about whether AI is a tool for good or a tool for ill, it will be a tool for both. We must prepare for both and insure against the latter,” he urged.

Full statement available here.

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