Secretary of State speech to AI fringe

A speech delivered by Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology, Michelle Donelan, at the AI Fringe on Monday 30 October

The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP

Good morning.

A big thank you to Milltown Partners, too, and everyone involved in the AI Fringe, for putting on such an exciting range of events…of course, not just here in London but right across the UK – in Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Edinburgh and beyond.  

AI has the potential to transform the lives of people in every corner of the United Kingdom.  

We are among the top three nations in the world for AI – brushing shoulders with the US and China.  

And in recent months, international trailblazers in artificial intelligence  such as Anthropic and OpenAI have chosen the UK to base their first offices outside the US…    

This is the ringing endorsement of the unapologetically  pro-innovation, pro-business, pro-safety approach that we have taken here in Britain.  

Just look what is happening on our shores…. 

Take Oxford-based Brainomix.  They are employing AI to share vital information between NHS hospitals, almost halving patients’ ‘door in, door out’ time.  

Meanwhile, London-headquartered Wayve is harnessing sophisticated AI software to pilot new, electric, self-driving cars which could change the future of road transport forever. 

And at Google Deepmind, scientists working in the AlphaFold programme have used AI to predict the structures of 200 million proteins - the fundamental building blocks of human biology.  

And earlier this month, I visited a fast-growing AI business called KAPDAA. They combine powerful artificial intelligence with sensors to scan materials, identify what they are made of, and then ensure they can be recycled.  

Over the last three years they had already saved over 15,000 metres of fabric from going to landfill. Now, they have a bold plan to recycle some ten tons more of used clothes in a week.  

But you and I know that we are just scratching the surface of what this transformative technology can really do.  

In the future, AI could save us from hundreds of hours of work lost to admin and bureaucracy. It could unlock bold new discoveries in clean, green energy that helps us to win the race to net zero. And crucially, it could hold the potential to change the face of modern medicine and life sciences.  

Recognising this phenomenal potential yesterday my department set out further plans for our AI Acceleration Mission. 

Our goal is to find transformational breakthroughs in treatments for previously incurable diseases including dementia and dramatically improving our approach to mental health.  

This means a game-changing £100 million of investment targeted in parts of the UK where the clinical needs are the greatest.  It will help test and trial new cutting-edge AI over the next 18 months.  

Now, we have always known that AI would push the boundaries of what is possible in our healthcare, closing the gap between the discovery of new drugs and the roll out of new treatments.  

And thanks to the investments we are making, we are building a brighter future, where AI makes a difference. It will make our lives healthier, longer and easier. 

However, for all these amazing benefits this revolutionary technology will also come with risks.

The stakes are too high and the challenges too profound for anyone to bury their heads in the sand…to ignore what some of the brightest minds in AI are telling us right now would be foolish.  

So, here in the UK we are doing things differently.  

Just last week, we became the first government in the world to formally summarise the risks presented by AI.  We published comprehensive, research-backed, expert-driven reports by GO Science, informed as well by our intelligence assessments.  

It made clear that Frontier AI poses a range of potential risks including catastrophic risks…risks around loss of control , and around misuse by rogue actors, or the risks presented to society.  

Some of these risks are indeed present and are causing harm today but others are threats which we are uncertain…uncertain if, how, or when they are going to materialise.  

As many of you will know there is a spirited debate right now about exactly what AI can become or be used for in the future. But wherever you stand on this issue, I believe the greatest risk of all is us doing nothing.  

AI is not something that is happening to us; it is something that can and must be shaped by us for the benefit of the world. I believe we have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to future generations to ensure that the technology develops safely so that we realise a brighter future with AI tomorrow because of the safeguards that we put in place today.   

That is why, through our Frontier AI Taskforce, we have brought in world-leading experts - who genuinely understand this technology.

This includes internationally respected figures like Yoshua Bengio, one of the Godfathers of AI – and who I know will be speaking to you later this week. The taskforce is investigating risks right at the frontier of artificial intelligence.  

In recent weeks they have been bringing in some of the best experts in the field from across the globe such as Rumman Chowdhury, who will be driving forward its work on societal impacts. 

Its research team and partners have published hundreds of papers at top conferences and in the lead up to the summit they have forged exciting partnerships with startups and non-profits like Apollo Research and OpenMined.  

And this is just the beginning!  

As the government announced just last week, we want to take the work of our Taskforce to the world – to help ensure the global public has trust in safe, fair and transparent AI.  

Our new AI Safety Institute will be based here in the UK and will help us do exactly that. It will advance the world’s knowledge of AI safety, evaluating new models and deepening our understanding of the risks. 

It will also carry out research into new safety methods so we can really get ahead of the curve and ensure developers are using the right tools at the right time to manage potential risks.   

This information can be utilised not just here in the UK but with our global partners too - important because AI does not respect geographical boundaries. 

We have always said that AI safety is a global challenge. And of course, therefore, it demands nothing less than a global solution.  

That is exactly why our global AI Safety Summit later this week is so very important… 

In convening leading countries, leading experts, leading companies, and leading members of civil society at the historic Bletchley Park, we have a unique opportunity before us.  

A chance to bring our enormous collective strength to bear in writing a new chapter on AI safety, to help us grip the risks of Frontier AI and its impact on public safety and national security, on misinformation, disinformation and deepfakes and its potential to exacerbate global inequalities.   

I am confident that, together, we will build a new international consensus on how we deal with these issues. 

It is important to recognise, though, that this summit is neither the start nor the end of this journey. The coming days represent the culmination of an enormous amount of work and engagement.  

And events like the AI fringe are absolutely crucial – ensuring that the voices of broader society are heard loud and clear.   

Securing a future of safe AI is one of the greatest challenges of our age and we each have a part to play.  

United in purpose, I believe we can give people real confidence that AI will work for humanity, and not against it, that it will realise our best hopes, and not our worst fears, that it will become the most powerful force for good that the world has ever known.  

Thank you.

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology
The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP