The US and UK governments have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to jointly develop some tests for AI models, and collaborate in general on unearthing AI safety risks.

Andrew Wooden

April 2, 2024

3 Min Read

The MoU, signed by Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan and US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, is supposed to herald some joined-up thinking about how to test and evaluate AI systems, via AI Safety Institutes based in both the UK and US.

The plan is to build out a common approach to AI safety testing and to share the facilities’ capabilities in order to tackle any risks. They intend to perform at least one joint testing exercise on a publicly accessible model and to ‘tap into a collective pool of expertise by exploring personnel exchanges between the Institutes.’

On a practical level this means information sharing about the capabilities and risks associated with AI models and systems, allowing researchers to ‘coalesce around a common scientific foundation.’

As well as this trans-Atlantic team up, there are plans to develop similar partnerships with other countries ‘to promote AI safety across the globe.’

“This agreement represents a landmark moment, as the UK and the United States deepen our enduring special relationship to address the defining technology challenge of our generation,” UK Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology, Michelle Donelan. “We have always been clear that ensuring the safe development of AI is a shared global issue. Only by working together can we address the technology’s risks head on and harness its enormous potential to help us all live easier and healthier lives.

“The work of our two nations in driving forward AI safety will strengthen the foundations we laid at Bletchley Park in November, and I have no doubt that our shared expertise will continue to pave the way for countries tapping into AI’s enormous benefits safely and responsibly.”

United States Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo added: “AI is the defining technology of our generation. This partnership is going to accelerate both of our Institutes’ work across the full spectrum of risks, whether to our national security or to our broader society. Our partnership makes clear that we aren’t running away from these concerns – we’re running at them. Because of our collaboration, our Institutes will gain a better understanding of AI systems, conduct more robust evaluations, and issue more rigorous guidance.

“By working together, we are furthering the long-lasting special relationship between the U.S. and UK and laying the groundwork to ensure that we’re keeping AI safe both now and in the future.”

Essentially, it’s about getting the US and UK’s ducks in a row with regards to working out what fresh problems might emerge from the latest wave of generative AI tech.

While this announcement in particular is light on details, it sounds essentially like just a pledge to agree on some ground-rules on how to go about the task of testing AI, so presumably there will be more to come as the project starts actually digging into the problem.

There has been a lot of postering by the government of late as it looks to position the UK as central to the AI sector, either through injections of public funds, or schemes like generating some rules of its own around the burgeoning sector.

While it’s good to see governments looking to get ahead of a technology which some predict could have seismic consequences on all sorts of things from employment to disinformation, efforts by the UK to lead the charge can’t help by ring a little hollow due to both the comparatively small amounts of cash it periodically earmarks for development, and the fact the action is mainly taking place within a small number of large US companies outside of any jurisdiction of UK regulators.

Deeper collaboration, certainly with the US but with other nations as well, would therefore seem to be a sensible policy for the UK to pursue, as lawmakers and politicians around the world attempt to work out what it is they should do about AI, and what AI is going to do to us.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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