Tackling safety challenges key to the successful adoption of artificial intelligence - Michelle Donelan

It is safe to say that the world is now wide awake to the opportunities and the challenges posed by artificial intelligence. In the last three years alone, MPs have mentioned artificial intelligence (AI) more times in the House of Commons than they did in the entire 30 years before that.

And when I stood up to give my first speech as the Secretary of State for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), I made it clear that we were going to be different and we were going to do things differently.

So, when it comes to AI, I think it is especially important because we cannot afford for DSIT to be a normal ‘business as usual’ Whitehall department. Nor can we deliver extraordinary things without more extraordinary people in our departmental team.

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We need to be as agile, innovative and as accessible just like the entrepreneurs and businesses and researchers that we represent. And I am pleased to report that we have done exactly that.

Michelle Donelan is Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology. PIC: UK ParliamentMichelle Donelan is Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology. PIC: UK Parliament
Michelle Donelan is Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology. PIC: UK Parliament

With our skills, Frontier AI Taskforce and our global AI Safety Summit, it is clear that the UK is perfectly placed to lead the international charge on seizing the opportunities of AI whilst gripping the risks.

Many of you will have heard me talk about AI safety being the UK’s priority, and how we can only truly utilise the extraordinary benefits AI has to offer once we have tackled some of the safety challenges associated with the frontier.

To some this may sound overcautious, or that we are being driven by fear of the risks rather than optimism about the opportunities. But actually I think it is rather about the opportunities that we are focusing on.

Safety and security are key to unlocking innovation.

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The country which tackles key AI safety risks first will be the first to fully take advantage of the huge potential that AI has to provide.

That is why the UK is putting more investment into these questions right now than any other country in the world.

Questions like “how do we prevent misuse of Frontier AI by malicious actors?”

And “how do we ensure we don’t lose human control and oversight of this new technology?”

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And how can we protect our society including our democratic system.

Think of how air travel – once considered a dangerous new technology by many – is now one of the safest and most beneficial technologies in human history.

We got there by working with countries across the world to make sure we have the right safety mechanisms in place - and now we all reap the benefits of flying safely.

Safety is absolutely critical to unlocking adoption across our economy.

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Boosting consumer confidence is what will make the difference between a country taking a few years to adopt new technology into their lives, or a few decades.

I want to make sure the UK is at the forefront of reaping the benefits of this transformative technology.

Our approach to AI has been commended for being agile, open and innovative. But we need more research to guide our approach.

In many cases, we simply don’t understand the risks in enough detail or certainty right now because this an emerging technology that is developing quicker than any other technology in human history.

An abridged version of a speech delivered by Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan at Onward on the future of AI.