PM invites global leaders to discuss ethics in tech

London summit next year will invite countries to discuss standards for emerging technology

Boris Johnson has announced that a summit will take place in the UK next year for countries across the world to discuss the principles and rules around the application of emerging technology.

During his speech to the UN General Assembly on 24 September, the prime minister invited global leaders to take part in the event, which will take place in London.

According to Johnson, the aim is to agree on “a set of global principles to shape the norms and standards that will guide the development of emerging technology”.

He added: “We will seek to assemble the broadest possible coalition to take forward this vital task. The UK can contribute to this mission as a global leader in ethical and responsible technology.

“If we master this challenge – and I have no doubt that we can – then we will not only safeguard our ideals, we will surmount the limits that once constrained humanity and conquer the perils that once ended so many lives.”

The government’s plan to discuss tech ethics follows the controversy around allegations that personal data gathered through the Gov.uk portal could be used to target political messaging at citizens.

In response to the concerns, Alison Pritchard, director general of the Government Digital Service (GDS), which runs Gov.uk, said last week that there was “nothing sinister” about gathering user information to inform service delivery.

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Pritchard said the intention was to use online data to identify and steer people towards related information that they may need on services, but she conceded there were implications in doing that.

“We are talking about promoting ethical and maybe political considerations, through to achieving what is a very sensible goal,” said Pritchard during a media briefing at the GDS’s Sprint 19 conference in London.

“But I’m not naïve,” she added. “I can see how this is a really difficult space to operate in, particularly when we’re working at pace. You have to push through on this stuff, but make sure that you’re doing it in a proper way. I understand the debate.”

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