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Michelle Donelan reaffirms UK's commitment to AI safety

In a keynote speech, the secretary of state for science, innovation and technology discussed the UK's pro-innovation approach to AI safety

During her keynote speech at The Future of AI event in London, secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, Michelle Donelan, reaffirmed the UK’s principles-based approach to regulation.

With generative AI (GenAI) driving disruption, the government hopes to unleash growth and prosperity across the country. It aims to put the UK at the forefront of the global debate around AI security and is hosting the first global AI Safety Summit this November at Bletchley Park.

Given the global debate on how to control AI, the approach the UK is taking is, according to Donelan, balanced with “bold steps to address risks at the frontier”. She said the UK would achieve this by investing in world-class research capabilities and working closely with industry and civil society to make sure that the UK’s AI governance approach keeps pace.

“Far from a race to the bottom, the key AI developers across the world are looking for countries where they will have certainty, clarity and support when it comes to building and deploying AI safely,” she said.

Donelan positioned the UK as having a mature, considered and agile approach to AI that maximises the potential for innovation by mitigating the risks.

She wanted developers to see the UK as one of the countries that is open to AI, where consumers are open-minded and excited about using their AI tools to improve their lives, adding: “I want the British people to use AI with the same confidence and lack of fear as we do when we book an airplane ticket. And I want AI companies to know that the UK is the most up-to-date, agile and economically rewarding place in the world to build their business in.”

She ended the speech saying: “The UK is and will remain the most agile and innovative place for you to develop your business. Safety at the frontier means prosperity across the sector.”

The speech illustrates the emphasis the government is now putting on AI safety as it gets ready for the AI Safety summit. 

During last week’s expert witness session for the House of Lords Communications Committee, Wendy Hall, who chaired the Office for AI, said that as ChatGPT started gaining prominence, there was a lot of hype and scaremongering, which led to the UK “tunnelling in on safety and risk”.

But she said that this tunnel approach misses the broader picture. Hall described the risks as “hypothetical” compared with the more immediate societal risks posed by new technology.

Jeremy Silver, CEO of Digital Catapult, who also gave evidence, said: “Our contribution to global regulation is something we should think about. There is a role for us.”

He wanted to see the government focus on what this means for the UK economy and population: “How do we make sure industry adopts technology more effectively? Involvement of regulators helps as they have domain knowledge.”

For Silver, there needs to be a balance of the understandable concerns of consumers and workers with a need to encourage industry adoption. 

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