Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan's speech at Guildhall
The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan, gave a speech at Guildhall on the evening of the 30 October, ahead of the AI Safety Summit
Thank you - it is a pleasure to join you all this evening.
We have some of the most exciting and innovative thinkers in the world of AI and beyond around the room tonight.
And of course we are immensely grateful to the City of London for kindly hosting us in this fantastic venue this evening.
But for our City of London friends here tonight who were hoping for a night off from the numbers and the balance sheets I am afraid you are going to have to wait a bit longer because the UK’s AI balance sheet tells such an extraordinary story that can’t be ignored.
With 1% of the world’s population, we have built the 3rd largest AI sector in the world.
We have rocketed ourselves to a 688% increase in AI companies basing themselves here in less than a decade.
UK AI scaleups are raising almost double that of France, Germany and the rest of Europe combined.
And more money is invested into AI safety here than in any other country in the world.
By the end of the decade – our AI sector will be worth half a trillion dollars.
By 2035, it is predicted to be double that. A trillion-dollar AI sector here in the UK.
For context, that is equal to the value of our entire tech sector today.
But as the numerous AI startups and scaleups around the room tonight will know, the numbers only tell part of the story.
The true value of course is the 700,000 hours of time saved for doctors in hospitals and teachers in our schools.
On our roads, AI models are piloting a new age of electric, self-driving cars which may one day eliminate road death.
And in some of our classrooms, AI is instantly translating lessons into any language – including Ukrainian for our refugees who have recently settled here.
But we are only just scratching the surface. We stand at a pivotal juncture in human history.
What Alan Turing predicted many decades ago is now coming to fruition.
Machines are on the cusp of matching humans on equal terms in a range of intellectual domains - from mathematics to visual arts through to fundamental science.
As Turing foresaw, this progress has not come without opposition.
Yet the potential for good is limitless if we forge a thoughtful path ahead.
What could the future really look like?
The pioneering American computer scientist J.C.R. Licklider envisioned a symbiotic partnership between humans and machines.
Licklider predicted this could lead to the most “intellectually creative and exciting” period in human history. But to get there, we must be transparent with the public.
And we need to show beyond doubt that we are tackling these risks head-on.
That is why, last week we became the first country in the entire world to communicate to its citizens a clear explanation of what the risks at the frontier of AI could be.
This drew upon genuine world-leading expertise, including from many of you in this room, and which will lead the conversation not just at home but across the globe.
Because science fiction is no longer fiction. Science fiction is now science reality.
Just a few years ago, the most advanced AI systems could barely write coherent sentences.
Now they are writing poetry, helping doctors detect cancer and generating photorealistic images in a split second.
But with these incredible advances, come alongside risks.
And we refuse to bury our heads in the sand.
We cannot ignore or dismiss the countless experts who tell us plain and simple that there are risks of humans losing control, that some model outputs could become completely unpredictable and that the societal impacts of AI advances could seriously disrupt safety and security here at home.
The Summit will be a moment where we move this discussion forward from the speculative and philosophical. To the scientific and empirical.
AI is not some phenomenon that is happening to us, it is a force we have the power to shape and direct.
I believe we have a responsibility to act now.
That is why, since I was first appointed Secretary of State I have sought to grip these issues with every tool at my department’s disposal.
Through our Frontier AI Taskforce – chaired by leading tech entrepreneur Ian Hogarth – we have built an engine of AI experts to help us tackle these risks head-on.
We have brought in some of the best and brightest talent in the world.
From civil society such as the Lovelace Institute and the Centre for Long-Term Resilience, to academics from our leading universities, to researchers from industry leaders.
Just as the Covid Vaccine Taskforce made us one of the first countries in the world to roll out a working Covid vaccine, this taskforce is making the UK the strongest and most agile country in the world when it comes to AI safety.
In recent months, our taskforce has recruited renowned experts to guide its work including one of the Godfathers of AI, Yoshua Bengio and GCHQ Director Anne Keast-Butler.
And it has partnered with leading technical organisations including ARC Evals and the Centre for AI Safety to better understand the risks of frontier AI systems.
We now want to turbocharge this momentum. To fulfil our pledge to become the intellectual and geographical home of AI.
Which is why the Prime Minister announced just last week, that the next step in this journey will be turning our taskforce into a new AI Safety Institute based right here in the UK.
This Institute will lead a global effort in understanding the risks we’ve publicly talked about and stopping them before they actually pose risk.
It will also carry out research into new safety methods so we can get ahead of the curve and ensure developers are using the right tools at the right time to manage risks.
The work and findings of this institute will shape policy not just domestically but internationally too – helping developers and partner governments innovate safely and collaboratively.
This is not just the right approach I would argue it is the only approach. AI knows no geographical boundaries. The risks cut across borders, cultures and societies across the globe.
That is why the Summit must not be seen as the end of a journey, nor as a blunt tool to fix the problem in one swoop.
As AI evolves over time, our collective response must evolve too.
We have to distinguish between the high risk work at the frontier of AI, and the vast majority of companies whose development is much lower risk.
A one-size-fits-all system that ignores these important nuances will be destined to fail, and will stop us reaping the enormous benefit for our society that so many of you here tonight represent.
Making that 0.1% at the frontier safer will benefit both them and the remaining 99.9% of the sector – allowing us to improve consumer confidence and adoption across society.
Because we should be unapologetically pro-innovation, pro-business, and pro-safety. We must not pull up the drawbridge to innovation.
Our approach to AI will be the building blocks for creating a legacy for generations to come.
Indeed, I am delighted to announce that after the curtain falls on our global AI Safety Summit, Bletchley Park will get its first-ever, permanent AI summit exhibition.
What happened at Bletchley Park eighty years ago opened the door to the new information age.
And what happens there this week will open the door to a new age of AI. Where no life is needlessly cut short by cruel illnesses like cancer.
A world where near-limitless clean energy is the norm. Where our children have personalised education that unlocks their hidden talents and where we have more time to do the elements of our jobs we are passionate about rather than tedious paperwork and administration.
Because as we meet tonight, I truly believe that we are at a crossroads in human history. To turn the other way would be a monumental missed opportunity for mankind.
Every time a transformational technology has emerged it has brought with it new risks.
The motor car created road accidents, but in turn we created seatbelts and established rules of the road. AI is no different.
Our Summit this week affords us an unmissable opportunity to forge a path ahead where we can form those rules of the road together as an international community.
This is a chance to unify behind the goal of giving people in every corner of the globe confidence that AI will work for humanity and not against it.