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International deal to mitigate AI risks rings a little hollow

28 countries have signed up to what the UK government calls the 'Bletchley Declaration', a multilateral commitment to a coordinated, global effort to ensure that AI is a force for good.

Nick Wood

November 2, 2023

3 Min Read
Protective Barrier To AI Technology as safety protocols and safeguards for artificial intelligence to mitigate risks associated with computer

28 countries have signed up to what the UK government calls the ‘Bletchley Declaration’, a multilateral commitment to a coordinated, global effort to ensure that AI is a force for good.

Among them are the US, China – which caused a stir when it was invited in the first place – the EU, Japan, India, France, Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the UAE (see below for the full list).

Announced at the start of the UK-organised AI Safety Summit hosted at Bletchley Park, the signatories have essentially agreed that when it comes to AI, the world is walking a tightrope. By working together and holding steady, AI could well bring about a golden age of scientific and societal progress. Get it wrong though, and it risks tumbling into oblivion.

The AI balancing act has been talked about for years – long before OpenAI and ChatGPT caught everyone’s attention.

The Bletchley Declaration represents progress nonetheless, because the signatories are now pulling in the same direction, paving the way for real-world steps to actually address these issues.

A couple of those real-world steps involve funding scientific research on frontier AI safety, and the UK-led establishment of the world’s first AI Safety Institute. However, beyond these, the plan for now seems to be to have another catch-up at a later date.

“The Declaration details that the risks are ‘best addressed through international cooperation’,” said a UK government statement. “As part of agreeing a forward process for international collaboration on frontier AI safety, The Republic of Korea has agreed to co-host a mini virtual summit on AI in the next six months. France will then host the next in-person summit in a year from now. Further details on these events will be confirmed in due course.

“This ensures an enduring legacy from the summit and continued international action to tackle AI risks, including informing national and international risk-based policies across these countries.”

While international cooperation always makes for good PR, unless there are clear and concise strategies – backed by funding – then that’s all these biannual meetings will be good for.

Take the world’s seeming inability to effectively address climate change, for example. Every year there is a UN climate summit where the same messages about reducing emissions are repeated. And every year, global temperatures rise, and scientists reissue the same warning about missing the internationally-agreed target – the Paris Agreement – of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C.

If the world is already failing to tackle one existential threat, what chance does it have at tackling two at once?

Perhaps the new AI supercomputer being built at Bristol University can come up with some suggestions.

Announced on the sidelines of the AI Safety Summit and backed by £225 million of government funding, the new supercomputer – called Isambard-AI – will be 10 times more powerful than the UK’s current fastest supercomputer, and among the most powerful in the world, when it comes online next summer.

Built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and equipped with 5,000 Nvidia GH200 superchips, Isambard-AI will be able to carry out 200 quadrillion calculations per second.

“The new Bristol facility will be used by a wide range of organisations from across the UK to harness the power of AI, which is already the main driver of emerging technologies such as training large language models (LLMs), big data and robotics,” said Bristol University, in a statement. “The new supercomputing facility will also play a vital role in important areas such as accelerating automated drug discovery and climate research.”

Here’s hoping that AI might one day be smart enough to solve the world’s challenges on its own, negating the need for politicians to gather and wax lyrical about their good intentions.

Full list of signatories: Australia; Brazil; Canada; Chile; China; European Union; France; Germany; India; Indonesia; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Kenya; Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Netherlands; Nigeria; The Philippines; Republic of Korea; Rwanda; Singapore; Spain; Switzerland; Türkiye; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; United States of America.

 

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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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