UK sets up Frontier Taskforce to tackle AI's threats

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will welcome leaders and policymakers to Bletchley Park in November for AI summit

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has established a “Frontier AI Taskforce” as it gears up to host the world’s first international summit on the fast-advancing software this autumn.

Senior advisers in national security and computer science have been appointed to advise the Tory government on AI threats including “systems which could pose significant risks to public safety and global security”, the government said.

The team was initially known as the Foundation Model Taskforce but the name was changed to reflect the focus on “Frontier AI”.

The term describes highly capable foundation models, which could have dangerous capabilities that are sufficient to severely threaten public safety and global security.

“AI has enormous potential to change every aspect of our lives and we owe it to our children and our grandchildren to harness that potential safely and responsibly,” a government representative said.

“That’s why we've established the Frontier AI Taskforce, to undertake vital AI safety research backed by an initial investment of £100 million – more funding dedicated to AI safety than any other government in the world.

“It's also why we’re hosting the world's first global summit on AI safety in a matter of weeks, which will look at a range of potential risks. Our aim is to drive focused, swift international action to set up the guardrails necessary for supporting innovation, while meeting the novel challenges AI poses and avoiding harms.”

Leaders, decision makers and scientists are expected to gather at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire on November 1 and 2 to decide on a way forward that will enable societies to benefit from AI while also being shielded from its potentially harmful effects.

The task force includes input from academics Yarin Gal and David Kreuger, from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, respectively.

The team aims to investigate Frontier AI such as cyber attacks to advise the government on potential threats facing the UK.

Ian Hogarth, chairman of the task force, said the team “will help make sure the UK government is at the cutting edge of AI safety”.

He emphasised the positive side of AI and said members were working to strengthen the AI sector in the UK and shine a light on its benefits.

Keen to give Britain a higher platform on the world stage, Mr Sunak announced the first global summit on AI during a visit to the US in June when he held talks with US President Joe Biden.

The announcement came shortly after an adviser to the prime minister warned that AI could evolve to “kill many humans” within two years.

Matt Clifford, who helped Mr Sunak set up the task force, called for policymakers to wake up to the threats and said regulations were urgently needed to protect the public.

The question of whether China would be invited to the global summit lingered for months as No 10 Downing Street declined to confirm if the Communist government would be given a seat at the table.

Prof Max Tegmark, a leading AI expert in the US, told The National the summit could not be considered a success if a Chinese delegation was not present. He said a snub could be interpreted by Beijing as an attempt by the West to “weaponise” AI against China.

The prime minister believes the gathering will be successful regardless of whether China attends, his official spokesman said in response to a question from The National.

“I do think that the summit will be a success,” the spokesman said on Monday. “It will bring together both countries and businesses at the forefront of AI to look at how we can both protect the world and also make the best use of the opportunities that AI presents.”

James Cleverly, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, confirmed last week an invitation had been sent to China. He argued it would not be possible for the UK to keep the public safe from AI risks “if we exclude one of the leading nations in AI tech”.

Mr Cleverly visited China last month for talks aimed at easing tensions between the two nations.

He was the most senior British minister to visit the Asian power in five years.

He held talks with his counterpart Wang Yi as well as China's Vice President Han Zheng.

The trio agreed on “the potential of AI to unlock huge opportunities but stressed the need for global co-ordination to mitigate risks and put protections in place”, the Foreign Office in London said.

China has yet to confirm whether a representative will attend the summit.

Asked if China had accepted the invitation, Downing Street said it would be for the Chinese side to set out its intentions.

A government representative said: “As is routine for summits of this nature, we won’t speculate on potential invitees.”

Updated: September 26, 2023, 8:27 AM