The first international AI Safety Summit appears to have been a dud

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Vice President Kamala Harris has been in England this week for the first international AI Safety Summit, and she had an urgent warning to share about artificial intelligence.

In a speech Wednesday at the U.S. Embassy in London before she joined the summit the next day, Harris said:

AI has the potential to do profound good to develop powerful new medicines to treat and even cure the diseases that have for generations plagued humanity; to dramatically improve agricultural production to help address global food insecurity; and to save countless lives in the fight against the climate crisis.

But just as AI has the potential to do profound good, it also has the potential to cause profound harm. From AI-enabled cyberattacks at a scale beyond anything we’ve seen before to AI-formulated bioweapons that could endanger the lives of millions of people, these threats are often referred to as the ‘existential threats of AI’ because, of course, they could endanger the very existence of humanity.


All of that sounds very creepy, no?

It feels like we’ve reached a very cinematic stage in the arc of artificial intelligence.

With the rapid rate of technologization, I often feel as though we’ve reached the clichéd scene in which government officials and news anchors take to the airwaves, warning us to gird ourselves for the looming robot apocalypse.

Perhaps I’m being too fatalistic. But perhaps I’m not.

The White House relayed that seeing the latest “Mission Impossible” film alarmed President Joe Biden about the dangers of AI, ahead of this week’s executive order aimed at guaranteeing “safe, secure and trustworthy” artificial intelligence. Which seems like solid evidence that grappling with AI’s powerful potential is no longer confined to eerie sci-fi flicks.

Which is why it’s disappointing, though somewhat predictable, that the two-day summit appears to have resulted in minimal progress toward concrete solutions.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a “landmark agreement” between governments and tech companies to test AI models before they are released. And in her speech at the embassy, Harris touted a new U.S. safety institute that will work with a similar AI institute in London and other peer institutions to develop regulatory guidelines.

But as The Associated Press noted, “binding regulation for AI was not among the summit’s goals,” so what we got was ultimately a bunch of vows to keep collaborating.

Wired writer Will Knight channeled my frustration in his dispatch from the summit at Bletchley Park, near London. He noted that world leaders in attendance say they want to contain AI technology — but are still racing to develop it faster than their international peers.

I recently sat for a chat with a highly respected voice in the AI space who explained to me why such seemingly performative gatherings often fall far short of the strict regulation needed to ensure that AI technologies are used safely. (Stay tuned for that interview in the days ahead.)

It seems world leaders know about the dangers posed by AI. But they don’t seem ready to institute concrete measures to stop its most nefarious uses. And that’s worrying.

On “The ReidOut” on Wednesday, Joy welcomed Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes, who discussed the myriad ways AI can be used to manipulate elections.


Watch the interview below:

Ja’han Jones

Ja’han Jones is The ReidOut Blog writer. He’s a futurist and multimedia producer focused on culture and politics. His previous projects include “Black Hair Defined” and the “Black Obituary Project.”




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