Sunak to lobby Biden for UK ‘leadership’ role in AI development

Rishi Sunak will fly to Washington this week for talks with US president Joe Biden, as the prime minister seeks to exert British “leadership” in the debate over the development and regulation of artificial intelligence.

Sunak is expected to discuss a mooted “Cern for AI”, modelled on the international particle physics project, which conducts international research in a tightly controlled ethical and physical environment.

He also plans to raise with Biden the idea of a global AI regulatory body, possibly based on the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA).

Last week Sunak said he thought the UK could “play a leadership role” in AI and Downing Street insiders suggested Britain could be a host for any new international regulatory body.

Number 10 officials said Sunak was not endorsing any particular model at this stage but that the two-day Washington visit would be a big opportunity to thrash out ideas.

One ally of Sunak’s said the first step was “agreeing a joint approach and ensuring international alignment” with the US and other allies, adding: “Then we can move forward to what that looks like”.

They confirmed that both Cern and the IAEA were the kind of examples that could be considered and both have been mooted by the AI industry, whose leaders have called for tighter regulation.

Sajid Javid, former chancellor and an ex-adviser to US artificial intelligence company firm C3 AI, told the FT that both models were complementary and thought they should be considered.

Javid said that Cern, on the French-Swiss border, provided a “very controlled environment” for international particle physics research which was carried out for the global good.

Meanwhile, the Vienna-based IAEA was an international regulator and surveillance organisation overseeing the peaceful development of nuclear energy. “It’s not this or that,” Javid said. “They actually can be quite complementary. You need a regulator and also ethical research backed by western governments.”

Javid said there was a good chance for Britain to take a post-Brexit leadership role in AI, as a halfway house between the powerful US and EU trading blocs and with a working economic relationship with China.

A British official said: “The prime minister is very alive to the need for international alignment on approach to AI as the technology evolves to ensure we can both benefit from the opportunities but manage the risks.

“The UK is well placed to take a leading role in that and the first step is engaging with our allies from around the world on this work.”

While in Washington Sunak is expected to meet other political and business leaders and also attend a baseball game at the Washington Nationals stadium.

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