Labour accuses Rishi Sunak of angling for job after Elon Musk interview

Labour has accused Rishi Sunak of using his interview with Elon Musk to position himself for a job after Downing Street, after criticism that the prime minister allowed the billionaire to overshadow his AI safety summit.

Sunak rushed from Bletchley Park to central London after the summit to interview Musk on stage in an event that critics said made the prime minister look weak in the face of corporate power.

During the event, Musk predicted that AI would eventually take everybody’s jobs, that people faced a threat from “humanoid robots” and that one of the biggest upsides from the technology would be that people would be able to make AI friends. His comments have since dominated the news agenda, overtaking an agreement signed by the world’s biggest AI companies that could lead to a slowdown in the race to develop systems that can compete with humans.

Peter Kyle, the shadow technology secretary, said on Friday: “The AI summit was an opportunity for the UK to lead the global debate on how we regulate this powerful new technology for good. Instead, the prime minister has been left behind by the US and EU who are moving ahead with real safeguards on the technology.

“Unfortunately, Rishi Sunak again allowed himself to be distracted from the serious issues at hand, perhaps with one eye on his future career.”

At the event at Lancaster House, which was broadcast later on Musk’s social media platform X, Sunak quizzed the world’s richest man on a series of issues related to AI and technology more generally.

The prime minister paid Musk a number of compliments, calling him “a brilliant innovator and scientist”, failing to mention controversies such as Musk’s decision to deny Ukraine access to his Starlink satellites at a crucial point in its war against Russia.

At the end of the conversation, Sunak said it had been a “huge privilege” to host the Musk, patting him on the back as the pair left the stage.

Andrew Rogoyski, an AI expert at the University of Surrey, said: “It seemed odd to juxtapose the success of the AI summit in achieving international consensus with the views of a single tech billionaire, especially as the conversation focused in the ages-old AI meme of killer robots and job losses.”

He added: “We need to build a new narrative of opportunity and risk, accountability and transparency, public confidence and equal access.”

Speaking to a conference event on Friday morning, Matt Clifford, the technology investor who was tapped by Sunak to organise the summit, said: “I want to be very clear that was not a summit event last night.”

He joked: “I’ve spent the last 10 weeks telling people it’s not about killer robots and then he’s like, ‘actually it is about killer robots’.”

Government officials said they were pleased that Musk had agreed to attend the summit and the event in central London afterwards, and that he had backed Sunak’s efforts to bring in new safety regulations for the industry. Some, however, admitted annoyance that Musk’s subsequent comments had garnered so much attention.

One AI industry expert said: “It was very odd, it felt like he [Sunak] was auditioning to be a chatshow host. If I was working in No 10, I would be asking: ‘Why on earth did we do that?’”

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