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Griffin on Tech: AI governance ineffective without regulation

Peter Griffin, Editor. 03 November 2023, 9:41 am

The UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tried to position Britain this week as a leader in the responsible use of artificial intelligence with his high-powered AI Summit.

He chose Bletchley Park, the iconic home of the World War II codebreakers for the AI Safety Summit. But the Bletchley Declaration released by the UK and signed by 27 other countries and the European Union was strong on rhetoric and light on firm proposed action to govern the rapidly advancing technology.

“The Declaration sets out agreement that there is potential for serious, even catastrophic, harm, either deliberate or unintentional, stemming from the most significant capabilities of these AI models,” the UK Government declared.

Sunak described the summit and the declaration as a “landmark achievement”. But he and fellow signatories, including the US, the EU, and China, will need to follow up with concrete action for the AI Summit to be remembered as more than a worthy talkfest.

The countries agreed that they would work on requiring “increased transparency by private actors developing frontier AI capabilities, appropriate evaluation metrics, tools for safety testing, and developing relevant public sector capability and scientific research," the declaration said.

Given the angst about the “catastrophic risk” posed by AI that spurred Sunak to organise the summit, it's disappointing that there wasn’t a call for specific regulations to mitigate the risk. After all, the European Union is well advanced with developing the AI Act which will soon encapsulate all of the aims of the Bletchley Declaration in legislation that will apply across EU member states.

Every country faces the same issues with AI and a replay of the dominant power of Big Tech, where highly centralised technology has global reach and far-reaching consequences. It makes sense therefore for the countries concerned to get to work immediately on drafting a common framework for regulation of AI across the world.  The Europeans have done most of the hard work, so a 12 month sprint to draft legislation, perhaps under the auspices of a body like the United Nations, would be an obvious next step.

Instead, Sunak’s approach is likely to see countries forging ahead with their own patchwork of regulations, complicating rather than clarifying the picture around what are acceptable uses of AI.

The inaugural AI Summit therefore was a lost opportunity for the world’s nations to agree to a path of decisive action on how to deal with a rapidly evolving technology that, in many respects, is as significant as nuclear energy, which warrants its own global safety agency, international agreements and tight regulation in every part of the world.

Supie’s demise

The only bright spot this week in the wake of the collapse of groceries start-up Supie, was the surprising news that an anonymous donor had stepped in to pay the outstanding wages of the 120 staff who lost their jobs when the company ceased operating last weekend.

We need entrepreneurs to go up against the incumbents, to bring choice and competition to markets where it is sorely lacking. That turned out to be too big a task for Supie, though the $10 million in funding the startup had received before it ran out of cash seemed light for the monumental task of shaking up the $22 billion grocery market.

Still, in these capital-constrained times, the appetite for risk has ebbed away, so Supie’s timing was unfortunate. Whether regulatory changes improve the prospects for potential new entrants into the grocery market here is yet to be seen, its clear that whoever takes on our two big grocery players, whether in a purely online grocery delivery play or with a bricks-and-mortar approach, will need deep pockets and the appetite to sustain years of losses as it carves out a place for itself in a low-margin business.

In my BusinessDesk column this week I reflected on the startups that went up against incumbents - think CallPlus and ihug taking on Telecom, or Sam Morgan and Trade Me going up against the classified advertising might of the media giants.

We need more fearless founders taking on these challenges. Supie’s demise is a reminder to all involved, investors in particular, that the road to victory can be long and fraught when superior forces and market inertia are stacked against you. But it's still worth trying and we should celebrate those who give it a crack.


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