Bletchley Declaration on AI offers roadmap to limit the risks

BLETCHLEY, England — Governments from six continents on Wednesday agreed to a broad road map to limit the risks and harness the benefits of artificial intelligence, coming together in Bletchley Park, the symbolic birthplace of the digital era, for the first clear international declaration on a potentially world-altering technology.

At a time when countries and regions are pushing through varying regulations on AI, the negotiated statement — known as the Bletchley Declaration — saw global adversaries U.S. and China hash out a series of guiding principles with the European Union, Britain and 24 other nations. Countries jointly called for policies across borders to prevent risk, ranging from disinformation to the potential for “catastrophic harm either deliberate or unintentional.”

They additionally agreed to support “internationally inclusive” research on the most advanced future AI models, and work toward safety through existing international organizations — including the Group of Seven, OECD, Council of Europe, United Nations and the Global Partnership on AI. They also agreed to work through other “relevant initiatives,” a seeming nod to dueling AI safety institutes announced in recent days by Britain and the United States.

World leaders are gathering at the U.K.’s AI Summit. Doom is on the agenda.

The agreement came near the start of the two-day AI Safety Summit that has brought digital ministers, top tech executives and prominent academics to the once-secret home of the famous World War II code breakers who decrypted Nazi messages. Tesla chief executive and X owner Elon Musk and officials from China, Japan and European nations were in attendance. Vice President Harris is expected to arrive on Thursday, after making a separate splash with an AI speech in London on Wednesday.

The communiqué amounted to a statement of mission and purpose and did not contain specifics on how global cooperation could take shape. But organizers announced another summit, six months from now, in South Korea, followed by another in France six months after that.

The declaration comes as the United States, European Union, China, Britain are taking varying approaches on AI regulation, resulting in a quilt work of current or proposed rules with significant differences between them. The statement on Wednesday recognized that “risks arising from AI are inherently international in nature, and so are best addressed through international cooperation. We resolve to work together in an inclusive manner to ensure human-centric, trustworthy, and responsible AI.”

As the summit began, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Wu Zhaohui, China’s vice minister of science and technology, sat next to each other onstage, where they took turns delivering speeches about their responses to AI risk. The summit marked a rare meeting of high-level U.S. and Chinese officials, amid heightened economic tensions and intense technological competition.

Zhaohui called AI governance “a common task faced by humanity,” saying the Chinese government was committed to an enhanced dialogue about how to assess the risks of AI and ensure the technology remains under human control.

The decision to issue a joint communiqué at the start — as opposed to the end — of the summit suggested that leaders had reached the limit of agreed-to cooperation ahead of the event, with in person meetings unlikely to raise the bar significantly.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has focused the summit on the riskiest uses of AI, with a particular emphasis on doomsday scenarios, such as how the technology could be abused to deploy nuclear weapons or create biological agents. At the event, global leaders emphasized the immense power of the technology.

King Charles III compared AI advances to humans’ “harnessing of fire” in a video statement to the delegates. He likened the need for global cooperation on AI to the fight against climate change: “We must similarly address the risk presented by AI with a sense of urgency, unity and collective strength.”

As the summit began on Wednesday, the White House hosted its own counterprogramming about 50 miles away in London, where Harris delivered a speech at the U.S. Embassy on the Biden administration’s plans to address AI safety concerns. As international policymakers — especially in the European Union — rush to develop new AI legislation, the White House is pushing for the United States to lead the world not just in AI development, but also regulation.

In stark contrast to the Safety Summit agenda, the vice president urged the international community to address a full spectrum of AI risks, not only catastrophic threats such as weapons.

“Let us be clear there are additional threats that also demand our action,” she said. “Threats that are currently causing harm, and which to many people also feel existential.”

Standing at a podium with the U.S. presidential seal, Harris listed ways AI is already upending people’s lives. She raised concerns about how facial recognition leads to wrongful arrests, or how fabricated explicit photos can be used to abuse women.

At Bletchley Park, some attendees said they heard echoes of the vice president’s remarks in panel sessions, which were closed to the media. Alexandra Reeve Givens, the CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology, said government officials at one of her panels focused on current harms, including the use of automated systems in criminal justice and the risk of misinformation.

“Overall, ministers seem to be agreeing that the frontier risks that the Summit was first scoped to focus on are indeed important — but that they must also tackle pressing issues around AI impacting people’s lives right now,” she said.

Harris also touted a new U.S. AI Safety Institute within the Commerce Department, which will develop evaluations known as “red teaming” to assess the risks of AI systems, just days after Sunak announced a similar organization within the United Kingdom. The U.S. institute is expected to share information and research with its U.K. counterpart.

Harris also unveiled a draft of new regulations governing federal workers’ use of artificial intelligence, which could have broad implications throughout Silicon Valley.

Biden signs AI executive order, the most expansive regulatory attempt yet

Harris’s speech built on the Biden administration’s Monday executive order, which invoked broad emergency powers to put new guardrails on the companies building the most advanced artificial intelligence. The order marked the most significant action the U.S. federal government has taken so far to rein in the use of artificial intelligence, amid concerns that it could supercharge disinformation, exacerbate discrimination and infringe on privacy.

Yet there are limits to how much the Biden administration can accomplish without an act of Congress, and other legislatures around the world are outpacing the United States in developing AI bills. The European Union is expected to reach a deal by the end of the year on legislation known as the E.U. AI Act.

Michelle Donelan, the UK’s Secretary of State for science, innovation and technology, began the event by telling attendees that they are the “architects of the AI era,” who have the power to shape the future of the technology and manage its potential downsides.

“Together we have the resources and the mandate to uphold humanity’s safety and security by creating the right guardrails and governance for deployment,” she said in opening remarks at the summit.

Cat Zakrzewski

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