Kamala Harris to urge AI summit to look beyond doomsday risks

Vice President will position the US as a leader in the technology during visit to Britain

US Vice President Kamala Harris will represent her country at the AI Safety Summit in the UK. EPA
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The US will urge the world to face the “full spectrum of risks” from artificial intelligence, tackling everyday harms such as bias and disinformation, as well as doomsday scenarios involving biological weapons and cyber crime.

Vice President Kamala Harris will use a speech in London on Wednesday to set out Washington’s stall on AI as UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tries to position Britain as a leader in the field by hosting a two-day summit this week.

The politicial jockeying could be overshadowed by the appearance of tech billionaire Elon Musk, who will hold a live discussion with Mr Sunak on Thursday on his social media site X, formerly Twitter. Mr Musk launched a venture called xAI in July and was once a backer of OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT.

European officials will also arrive armed with their own strategies on AI, as governments try to get ahead of its risks.

Downing Street has had to play down suggestions of a snub after several senior world leaders declined to attend. The US is sending Ms Harris, with France and Germany expected to send middle-ranking cabinet ministers.

The US Vice President will lobby for her approach at the summit at Bletchley Park, chosen due to its symbolic significance as the home of Second World War code breaking.

The rise of technology such as ChatGPT has increased AI’s presence in the public consciousness but also highlighted concerns over its ability to make up false information and regurgitate biases.

“We are aware that many voices in the debate on AI policymaking believe governments and the private sector should have an overriding focus on the catastrophic threats such as cyber attacks or bioweapons, which are often referred to as existential threats,” a White House official said.

“But the Vice President is using her time in the United Kingdom to make the case that there are other harms that we also must address: harms that are happening here and now and which are affecting individuals and our communities every day, including those associated with bias and discrimination and mis and disinformation.”

President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Monday setting standards for AI testing and calling on developers to share results with US regulators. Ms Harris will “rally the world to join us” on her visit to the UK, the official said.

She will “reassert US global leadership on AI, recognising that as with other challenges that impact global security and global prosperity, the United States plays a unique role of leadership and can catalyse global action in a way that only the United States can,” the official added.

Bringing the US and China around the same table would be seen as something of a victory for Mr Sunak, who also wants countries to form an expert AI panel similar to the committee that advises governments on climate change.

Mr Sunak says the UK will form an AI safety institute to test new software so that tech companies are not “marking their own homework”. Ministers released intelligence assessments that warn AI could be used for cyber crime, terrorist recruitment and disinformation campaigns by 2025.

The UK is touting itself as the home of the world’s third-biggest AI sector after the US and China, with Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan saying Britain’s new institute would “lead a global effort”.

She said that AI companies scaling up in Britain were raising almost double that of France, Germany and the rest of Europe combined. By 2030 the UK’s AI sector could be worth $500 billion.

Germany, France and Italy also made manoeuvres on Monday by announcing they would work together on harnessing AI. A German minister called for an “innovation-friendly” approach when the EU comes to regulate AI.

The EU is separately calling on tech companies to sign a code of conduct promising not to develop systems that undermine democracy or promote criminal behaviour or terrorism. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is expected to be one of the most prominent guests at the summit, along with Mr Musk.

Updated: October 31, 2023, 1:09 PM