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UK wants international collaboration on AI for development

Foreign secretary James Cleverly uses speech at United Nations General Assembly to set out vision for potential of AI technology to speed up development in the world’s poorest nations

The UK government is calling on international partners to collaborate on how to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help developing countries.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) AI event yesterday (18 September), foreign secretary James Cleverly set out plans to launch an AI for Development programme, aiming to boost skills, innovation and computing power in Africa.

The government will launch the programme, which has been created in partnership with Canada’s International Development Research Centre, at the AI Safety Summit on 1 and 2 November. While the programme will initially focus on Africa, the government hopes to extend it to other developing countries and help them build local AI skills.

Julie Delahanty, president of the IDRC, said she was pleased to announce the collaboration with the UK foreign office.

“The AI for Development programme will build on existing partnerships, leveraging AI’s capacity to reduce inequalities, address poverty, improve food systems, confront the challenges of climate change and make education more inclusive, while also mitigating risks,” she said.

Cleverly called on other nations to join together to coordinate efforts in an attempt to accelerate progress in the world’s poorest countries.

“The opportunity of AI is immense,” he said. “It has already been shown to speed up drug discovery, help develop new treatments for common diseases, and predict food insecurity – to name only a few uses. The UK, alongside our allies and partners, is making sure that the fulfilment of this enormous potential is shared globally. As AI continues to rapidly evolve, we need a global approach that seizes the opportunities that AI can bring to solving humanity’s shared challenges. The UK-hosted AI summit this November will be key to helping us achieve this.”

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The government also announced a £1m investment in a Complex Risk Analytics Fund, aiming to harness the power of AI to help countries and global organisations prevent crises before they happen. It will also respond to emergencies as they occur and help countries recover.

The UK government will be hosting the summit at Bletchley Park, and the conference will look at the risks of AI and how these can be mitigated through internationally coordinated action.

The organisers said the summit would also build on ongoing work at international forums, including the OECD, Global Partnership on AI, Council of Europe and the UN.

In June, following the publication of a government whitepaper on AI regulations, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission said it was broadly supportive of the UK’s approach, but more must be done to deal with the negative human rights and equality implications of AI systems.

It said the proposed regulatory regime would fail if regulators – including itself, the Information Commissioner’s Office and others involved in the Digital Regulators Cooperation Forum – were not appropriately funded to carry out their functions.

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