Rishi Sunak urged to invite China to global AI regulation summit in UK

First gathering of key countries, leading technology companies and researchers to focus on safety measures

Sir Patrick Vallance speaks during the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change's Future of Britain Conference in central London. PA
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Sir Patrick Vallance, the former UK chief science officer, has called on the government to ensure China is on the list when it brings together what is being billed as the first global conference on regulating artificial intelligence later this year.

During the Covid pandemic, Sir Patrick became a household figure in the UK. Speaking at the Future of Britain 2023 conference organised by the Tony Blair Institute, he said his job was defined by issues of national resilience, and AI advances are a rising factor in those concerns.

Given China's leading role in developing the new technology, Sir Patrick said its expertise was needed at the table.

“It's never sensible to exclude the people who are leading in certain areas and they are doing very important work on AI and also raising some legitimate questions as to how one responds to that but it doesn't seem sensible to me to exclude them,” he said.

The British government said in June that the summit would bring together key countries, leading technology companies and researchers to agree on safety measures to evaluate and monitor the most significant risks from AI. It has talked of the value of like-minded countries acting in concert but not confirmed its intention to include China in the meeting.

The UK is a world leader in AI, ranking third behind the US and China. The AI sector contributes an estimated £3.7 billion to the UK economy and employs 50,000 people across the country.

Sir Patrick said regulation and public trust should be built together as the technology changes all aspects of modern living.

“This is the Industrial Revolution all over again as jobs change of out of all recognition,” he said. “Most people are very open with their data in everything they do online and very worried when it comes to things like health care.

“A regulatory system needs to be imaginative and exploratory.”

Ultimately, the technology represents an "autonomous" threat risk that is a concern for all countries, the former adviser said.

“We really don't know where that is going to go,” he said.

Striking a more hopeful note was French President Emmanuel Macron, who sent a video message to the meeting of current and former politicians, tech entrepreneurs and other industry figures.

“It is one of those things that will reframe and completely reshape our coming generations and the world,” he said. The President added that Europeans must not allow the bloc to become dependent on US or Chinese solutions for any problems that arise.

Sir Tony Blair told the conference that technology changes coming will allow politicians to “not just reform the state” but “reimagine it entirely” and “create the economy of the future”.

Giving examples of the potential change possible, he said “proper use of NHS data” could save £10 billion a year in early discovery of illnesses and that real-time data could help reduce hospital admissions by 60 per cent.

The former prime minister said the impact of technology needed the “full concentrated focus of government”.

He argued that while there were “huge” risks to technological advances, without “harnessing” it, progressive politics would fail to capture its political mission.

“This technology revolution isn’t an interesting sideshow on the margins of traditional politics,” he said.

“It should change them as completely as it is changing the world.”

Updated: July 19, 2023, 8:19 AM