Friday briefing: What we learned at Rishi Sunak’s summit on the dangers of AI

Good morning.

It has long been a goal for Rishi Sunak to position the UK in a leadership position in the growing conversation around the regulation and governance of artificial intelligence. A government adviser told Politico that the PM sees AI as “one of his long-term legacy pieces”.

In that vein Sunak this week organised a two-day AI summit, a passion project involving 100 world leaders, tech bosses and academics. They converged on Bletchley Park – the birthplace of modern computing – to discuss the risks surrounding the newest and most cutting edge forms of AI and come up with solutions to rein in the power of big tech companies that develop these complex large language models.

Despite worries that the absence of high profile leaders including the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the US president, Joe Biden, and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, could deflate the importance of the event, it began with an early diplomatic success. The US, UK, Australia, China and the EU were among 28 signatories to a declaration announcing the “potentially catastrophic risk” that artificial intelligence poses to humanity. Sunak also announced that the biggest tech companies will, for the first time, allow governments to vet their artificial intelligence tools, which he says will slow down the development of AI systems that can compete with humans.

The summit ended with what was billed as a fireside chat between Sunak and Elon Musk. The discussion has been described as something of a “love-fest” between the self-described tech geek PM and the billionaire tech giant.

For today’s newsletter I spoke to the Guardian’s global technology editor, Dan Milmo, about the implications of the summit and what might happen next. That’s right after the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Israel-Hamas war | The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was due in Israel on Friday and was expected to call for localised pauses in fighting to allow aid into Gaza, as Israel’s military said it had surrounded Gaza City and was moving further into the centre and fighting in close quarters.

  2. Storm Ciarán | The threat of flooding remains high in the south of England as the UK feels the after-effects of the devastating Storm Ciarán. Eighty flood warnings are in place with more than 220 flood alerts stretching up through the country, after the south coast and the Channel Islands were battered with heavy rain and gusts of up to 100mph on Thursday.

  3. Coronavirus | Matt Hancock told officials that he – rather than the medical profession – “should ultimately decide who should live or die” if the NHS was overwhelmed during the pandemic, the Covid-19 inquiry has been told.

  4. Health | Patients and their relatives will be able to request a second opinion from senior doctors around the clock when the “Martha’s rule” system starts in hospitals in England, the government’s patient safety commissioner has said.

  5. Italy | Police in Italy are searching for a British national suspected of killing his partner, whose body was found with stab wounds at her home in the Abruzzo region.

In depth: ‘It’s all very high level – there’s not much granular detail’

Kamala Harris and others at the AI summit.Kamala Harris and others at the AI summit. Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/EPA

In some ways the last two days have marked a real move forward in AI regulation. There is now an explicit consensus to take on an international shared responsibility. There are plans for further meetings in South Korea and France over the next year to continue the conversation surrounding risks posed by AI. However, critics have said that the focus on the more hypothetical aspects of existential threats as opposed to the more current, pressing problems – such as insurance companies using AI to determine your risk or AI’s potential to take people’s jobs – dilutes the impact of the summit.

The big moments of the summit

The big breakthrough was the creation of an agreed framework around the nature of the risks of AI. It’s a first, but “all very high level at the moment”, says Dan. “There is not much granular detail.”

Bringing the US and China together to sign this declaration is a diplomatic coup for Sunak as it is the first time that China has met with western governments to discuss the issue. The prime minister has batted away criticism for allowing China to join the summit – former prime minister Liz Truss wrote that she was “deeply disturbed” at the invitation and urged Sunak to rescind it. The government argued that China is a key player in the development of AI and that it should be at the table for the discussion to be truly global.

The US vice-president, Kamala Harris, stole some of Sunak’s thunder, as she arrived with a freshly minted White House executive order on AI that laid out actionable plans that the US government would be taking, including setting up its own institute that would police artificial intelligence. With all the noise and bluster of the summit, Sunak did not have plans with anywhere near as much detail to match. Though he insisted that he welcomed Harris’s intervention, it made it clear that the UK was not setting the agenda.

There is a sense now that “structures need to be put in place from individual countries to tackle AI”, Dan says, and Harris was signalling that the US has the blueprint for those plans.

Musk and Sunak

I’ll get my coat … Rishi Sunak on the set of his conversation with Elon Musk.I’ll get my coat … Rishi Sunak on the set of his conversation with Elon Musk. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA

Elon Musk is not necessarily at the forefront of the commercial side of AI but this was nonetheless a consequential meeting that gave the prime minister’s event a further level of importance.

Many did not know what to expect of the conversation: a world leader interviewing a tech billionaire one-on-one is not a regular occurrence. But once things got going it became clear quite quickly it was not going to be a difficult discussion. Instead, the pair traded compliments, with some commentators noting that it seemed like Sunak was angling for Musk’s approval. Kiran Stacey wrote in his analysis that the prime minister played “the role of eager chatshow host, keen to elicit drawled lessons on love, life and technology from the billionaire superstar sitting next to him”.

Before the summit Musk, co-founder of OpenAI, said that he would like a “third party referee”, a point that he reiterated in his 40-minute conversation with Sunak at Lancaster House. There was a chumminess throughout, with the prime minister piling on the praise, while Musk publicly backed some of Sunak’s decisions – like bringing in China.

Musk highlighted the potential benefits of AI, while simultaneously issuing stark warnings about “humanoid robots”, and predicted that there would be no jobs as AI would have taken them all. Despite some of his bleakest predictions, Musk also said that he believed AI to be a force for good.

What happens next?

There is momentum behind the idea that more regulation and much closer oversight is needed of artificial intelligence in all its forms: “Government oversight is certainly a lot stronger than it was last week because of this summit,” Dan says.

Sunak has also insisted that he wants to ensure that the safety issues are dealt with in a way that avoids hampering innovation in the tech sector. He stressed that AI has the capacity to make people’s lives much better, in healthcare, education and the economy but later added that it could also wreak havoc on the same level as a pandemic or nuclear war.

The real change however is to come in the following months. Dan will be closely monitoring how much further the government is willing to go to look under the hood of AI products being funded by private companies. “It’s a fast moving industry, so the other question is how will the legislation keep up with all the changes,” he adds. “Governments are worried about what will happen next year when new, more powerful AI models come out.”

Sunak said last week that “only governments can properly assess the risks to national security [that AI poses]. And only nation states have the power and legitimacy to keep their people safe.” But he added that we should not rush to regulation without fully understanding the risks. It is no secret that the prime minister wants tech companies to invest and develop their products in the UK, with the hope of economic benefits. How he plans to balance the goals of regulation and innovation remains unclear.

What else we’ve been reading

Gym leggings.Gym leggings. Illustration: Getty Images

  • All gym lovers have their preferred choice of clothes and that pair of leggings they can’t live without, but a recent study might change their minds. The study revealed that sweat clings on to chemical additives from activewear that can then be absorbed through skin. Adrienne Matei has the full report. Nyima Jobe, newsletters team

  • Divorce often completely blows up a person’s life up, emotionally and financially. Stagnating wages and sky high rents and mortgages have made living alone more difficult than ever. Tara Ellison spoke to people who ended up in precarious and unstable housing situations in middle age after a relationship ended, and the impact it had on them. Nimo

  • The last ever Beatles song has been released, and there’s one last twist: the song is AI enhanced. Speaking with Beatles experts, Aneesa Ahmed writes about the anticipation and exhilaration towards the last hoorah from the band. Nyima

  • Emma Stone has starred in some of my favourite films so I am extremely grateful to Anne Billson, who has compiled her 20 best performances. As the weather gets colder and the nights grow longer, have a peruse and pick one to watch tonight. Nimo

  • Hannah Jane Parkinson writes on whether one should feel you have to speak out in times of conflict, touching on performative activism and also understanding that social media is one of the most effective ways to ignite change. Nyima

Sport

India’s Mohammed Shami, left, celebrates the dismissal of Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews, centre.India’s Mohammed Shami, left, celebrates the dismissal of Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews, centre. Photograph: Rafiq Maqbool/AP

Cricket | India bowled out Sri Lanka for 55 runs as their swashbuckling batting and brilliant seam bowling took them to a 302-run victory and secured a World Cup semi-final slot.

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Football | Erik Ten Hag is under pressure to improve Manchester United’s fortunes after a run of eight defeats in the first 15 games of the season. While there is no desire to sack the embattled manager, there is an acceptance from the Old Trafford hierarchy that his position will become untenable if the side’s form does not improve.

Rugby | Wayne Barnes has announced his retirement after refereeing 111 Tests, making his last match the World Cup final between South Africa and New Zealand.

The front pages

Guardian front page, Friday 3 November 2023

“Top tech firms to let governments vet AI tools, Sunak tells summit” – the Guardian leads with news from Bletchley Park. The Daily Telegraph’s takeaway is “Musk tells Sunak AI will end work” and the Times gets in on that with “AI means nobody will have to work, says Musk”. The i says “Mortgage pain: UK warned not to expect any interest rate cut before 2025”. Here’s more, in the Financial Times: “Interest rates held at 15-year hight as BoE warns of stagnating economy”. The Metro splashes on “The wrath of Ciarán” as “Britain battered by 100mph storm”. “Don’t ruin our nation’s day of remembrance” – the Daily Express says there are “fears” over a planned pro-Palestinian march. And the Daily Mirror calls Matt Hancock “The grin reaper” after the Covid inquiry heard he wanted the power of life and death during the pandemic.

Something for the weekend

Our critics’ roundup of the best things to watch, read and listen to right now

Molly Manning Walker’s How to Have Sex.Molly Manning Walker’s How to Have Sex. Photograph: Nikos Nikolopoulos

TV
Shetland, BBC One
Can Shetland still be Shetland without DI Jimmy Perez? Douglas Henshall spent seven seasons nudging the BBC One sleuth up the ranks of British crime shows. Last year, Perez finally crumbled, driven out of the force by an injustice that required rules to be broken, and by his desire to no longer be left personally broken-hearted by the job. Henshall quit the show, having created a TV copper of rare nuance. Shetland has returned nonetheless, and it has plenty of attractions left to compensate for Henshall’s considerable absence. Jack Seale

Music
Jung Kook: Golden
It’s well-made, hooky – but nevertheless, Golden is an album bound to leave more agnostic listeners pondering what the fuss is about. If you detach the music from the pop world that spawned it – with its maknae, annually broadcast dinner parties, Jung-inspired concept albums and umpteen other approaches and customs that seem markedly different to and thus more interesting than anything happening in western pop – it just sounds like decent mainstream pop: there isn’t anything happening sonically that sounds particularly unique or fresh. Then again, as the sales figures for its singles underline, the views of agnostics are by-the-by: Golden’s success is a foregone conclusion. Alexis Petridis

Film
How to Have Sex
Full-on energy, likable performances and uncompromisingly daft jokes turbocharge this debut feature from British film-maker Molly Manning Walker, about three teenage girls up for the holiday of a lifetime in the party town of Malia in Crete, and trying not to think about the exam results their parents could tactlessly text them at any moment. An interestingly unsentimental film, without the coming-of-age cliches, and one from which the three leads emerge stronger and happier than before. Peter Bradshaw

Podcast
Death of a Codebreaker
BBC Sounds, from Tuesday
In 2010, Gareth Williams – a Welsh maths genius who worked as a codebreaker for GCHQ, MI6 and the intelligence services – was found dead inside a fingerprint-free bag in his London flat’s bathtub. In this forensic six-part podcast, Dr Sian Williams unpicks the unsolved case, but will she be able to get any real answers? Hollie Richardson

Today in Focus

The Royal Courts of Justice building in London Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA

How oligarchs use English courts to silence their critics

Use of Slapps by the super-rich against journalists is increasingly common, and campaigners say new legislation to deter such actions does not go far enough

Cartoon of the day | Ben Jennings

Ben Jennings on Rishi Sunak’s AI summit Illustration: Ben Jennings/The Guardian

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Co-parenting.Co-parenting. Composite: Guardian design; drxy/Getty Images/iStockphoto

For so many, divorce means conflict, animosity and, more importantly, uncomfortable situations for children stuck in the middle. Today’s Upside is bringing you a story debunking this as an inevitability.

Journalists and parenting experts Anna Whitehouse (aka Mother Pukka) and Matt Farquharson spoke with Zoe Williams about how they successfully co-parent after their decision to divorce after 17 years. The pair have implemented methods that benefit their two children, and have given tips to couples who find themselves in similar situations. The suggestions range from ensuring you put the children first to not being competitive and making sure family rituals remain intact.

Whitehouse says she doesn’t want to give “a rose tinted glamorisation” of divorce, and acknowledges the pain that comes with separating, but with these co-parenting gems there is certainly beauty in collaboration.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until Monday.

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