While Prime Minister Rishi Sunak may not have thrown the ceremonial pitch at the Washington Nationals game, he made a far bigger pitch during his visit to the United States. He made the case for the United Kingdom to be the world leader in the future of artificial intelligence to President Joe Biden.
The most significant aspect of this diplomatic encounter was the spotlight on AI and its potential to shape the future of both nations. Prime Minister Sunak, known for his tech-savvy approach, highlighted the risks associated should AI develop without a global regulatory effort. Recognising the United States’ dominance in the AI sector, the visit aimed to foster collaboration and knowledge-sharing between the UK and the US, ultimately strengthening both countries’ position as allies and positioning the UK as a leader.
The battlefield of technological development will be where global prosperity and freedom are secured. In his May 2023 report, Henry Jackson Society (HJS) Associate Research Fellow Darren G. Spinck recommended the alignment of US-UK tech policy, warning that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ‘can use advances in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, robotics and other advanced and emerging technologies to advance its techno-authoritarian worldview.’
New AI programmes could create turbulence in labour markets, leading to sudden spikes in unemployment and, in turn, making it harder for governments to make economic projections. Nefarious actors, including enemy states, could also use them to influence elections, spread disinformation, and extortion. Take Pegasus-like spyware programmes used to hack mobile devices, their growth from requiring the target user to ‘click’ a link from the sender in order to infect the device to a ‘zero-click’ virus which leaves users almost defenceless. Governments had time to understand such viruses, understand their future capabilities, and put safeguards in place. The emergence of better and more sophisticated AI will enable those who wish us harm to advance and complicate threats in seconds.
It is no surprise that Sunak, who at times has been accused of looking more comfortable in Silicon Valley than SW1, has already taken steps to move tech further up the government agenda with the creation of a new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. The Department subsequently announced a new UK semiconductor strategy, something HJS Director of Research, Marc Sidwell, had called for in an article for CapX – pointing to China’s ‘increasingly hawkish stance’ on Taiwan as a threat to global semiconductor supply chains. Recent developments in AI capabilities and accessibility – such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT – have also prompted the publication of an AI White Paper. Albeit, this is already being revised – such is the nature of the arduous and bureaucratic process of policymaking, getting to grips with an exponentially growing technology.
Ongoing discussions surrounding AI regulation have garnered attention, with headline-grabbing warnings and public demand for accountability. Indeed, new polling from the Alan Turing Institute and the Ada Lovelace Institute shows that the majority of the British public wants AI regulation. The Prime Minister’s visit to the US serves as an opportunity to bring back a win in AI collaboration that resonates with the electorate and addresses these concerns.
Much like how Gordon Brown saw himself as the natural leader in the global financial crisis of 2008, and how Boris Johnson drew on what he believes is his inner Churchill in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Rishi Sunak clearly sees himself as the solution to the threats AI brings with it. Amongst his plans are to host an International AI Summit as well as a UK-based regulatory body and research institute. The UK has an excellent record as a regulator of things, from football to international finance, and while the US-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) is already setting out its own framework; there is a gap to bridge, providing the opportunity for the UK to become a key broker in the future of AI.
The visit left an indelible mark on the enduring importance of the “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States. The emphasis on AI collaboration highlights the shared commitment to harnessing the potential of this technology while mitigating its risks. As the world grapples with the challenges presented by AI, the UK and the US must continue to work together to secure their societies and lead the way towards a future where AI contributes to global prosperity and safeguards our shared values.
Tom Munson is a Policy & Communications Officer at The Henry Jackson Society and can be reached via email at [email protected]