Divisions over AI bubble up ahead of UK summit

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A sweeping executive order from US president Joe Biden demanding companies share how they are ensuring the safety of their artificial intelligence tools together with complaints that wider society and industry are being sidelined in favour of Big Tech set the scene for a landmark AI summit in the UK this week.

Biden’s decree — the broadest step taken by his government so far to tackle AI threats, from national security to competition and consumer privacy — comes ahead of a keynote speech from vice-president and AI tsar Kamala Harris and her appearance at the summit in Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, where British codebreakers in the second world war cracked German Enigma machine ciphers, altering the course of world history.

Wider society and industry representatives, however, are being “squeezed out”, according to an international group of campaigners who have written an open letter of complaint to summit host Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister. “AI is already making life-changing decisions — like how we work, how we’re hired and who gets fired,” said Kate Bell of the Trades Union Congress, one of the groups behind the letter. “It shouldn’t just be tech bros and politicians who get to shape the future of AI.”

The debate around regulation has heated up in recent weeks. Gary Gensler, chair of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, told the Financial Times recently that a financial crisis was “nearly unavoidable” within a decade if regulators failed to manage the risks.

The EU has moved the fastest, with a law outlining tough measures set to be approved by the end of the year, a move initially opposed by OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman, who said his company could “cease operating” in Europe if the rules were too stringent. In the UK, Sunak said last week he would “not rush to regulate” as he announced a new safety body to assess and test new technologies. 

Sunak’s government has published a series of papers ahead of the summit on capabilities and risks — including increased unemployment and poverty — focusing notably on “frontier AI”, which are systems that operate in the style of the human brain and include those underpinning products such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Google’s Bard chatbots.

In the meantime, the gold rush among investors continues. Most AI start-ups, however, are overvalued and will fail to make any money, according to Vinod Khosla, an early OpenAI backer, who told the FT he saw a parallel between the hype around AI and last year’s frenzy around cryptocurrency (where coincidentally the UK today said it would push ahead with regulation).

Despite the misgivings, the FT editorial board welcomed the summit as a “worthwhile endeavour whose importance goes beyond any one country”. Above all, it says, the meeting should initiate an international framework for regulation that avoids a further “Balkanisation” of rules and regulatory capture.

Between full-on techno-optimism and doom-filled warnings about the end of humanity lies the truth, the FT argues. “It would be a shame to stifle the potential good, just as it would be dangerous to regulate without knowing the biggest risks,” it concludes. “Overseeing AI may be an enigma, but it can be cracked through collaboration.”

The FT’s own Future of AI Summit takes place in London and online on November 15 and 16. Register here for your chance to get the big picture and learn how early adopters are using the technology.

Need to know: UK and European economy

Chief economics commentator Martin Wolf highlights the failure of UK regional policy, which he says has led to deep geographical inequality across the country.

Bar chart of regional inequality in Europe, 2015 (population-weighted coefficient of variation in regional GDP per head), showing the UK is among the most regionally unequal economies in western Europe

German inflation fell faster than expected to 3 per cent in September, its lowest annual rate since June 2021. Separate data showed the economy shrank 0.1 per cent in the third quarter as weaker household consumption offset a pick-up in investment. Authorities however also revised up gross domestic product for the previous two quarters, indicating that Europe’s largest economy did not contract as initially thought.

The UK and EU will push the world’s richest countries to end subsidies for foreign oil and gas operations and coal mining at an OECD meeting next month. The move builds on a commitment by some member countries to align public finance institutions with Paris Agreement goals to limit global warming.

Need to know: global economy

The World Bank warned that oil prices could hit $150 and food prices could also rise if the Israel-Hamas conflict intensified, in a “dual shock” for commodity markets still shaken by the war in Ukraine.

The EU and Australia have failed to reach a free trade deal after five years of negotiations. A deal is now unlikely until 2025, according to Australian officials, with EU parliamentary elections in June next year and a federal poll in Australia before or in 2025.

The Insurance Development Forum, a World Bank and UN-backed insurer body, is planning an infrastructure fund to help developing countries deal with the effects of climate change. Global climate efforts have faced setbacks recently as some governments have met political opposition over transition plans.

Facing elevated debts and growing demands on public spending, governments around the world must work out how they can deliver more with less, says the FT editorial board.

Foreign direct investment in China is plunging, according to FT analysis, adding to pressure on its policymakers to address the economic slowdown. Watch our new video for a discussion on whether China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative has been a success.

Video: Has China’s Belt and Road Initiative been a success?

Need to know: business

General Motors agreed a deal with the UAW union to end the carworkers’ strike, following similar deals struck by Ford and Chrysler owner Stellantis.

US chipmaker Broadcom and cloud software company VMware delayed the completion of their $69bn merger as they await approval from China. Chinese regulators have been holding up the deal after Washington toughened rules to block Chinese access to high-end semiconductors.

Norsk Hydro, a leading European aluminium producer, warned that the increasing number of electric cars imported from China could have a big impact on regional demand for the metal. It says regional orders would drop if European carmakers could not compete. In the US, EV growth is slowing.

Column chart of thousands of electric vehicles sold, showing US EV sales growth has begun to slow

BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset manager, warned that investor disdain towards mining risked starving the sector of capital and hindering the energy transition by creating shortages of metals vital for green technologies.

China tech IPOs are drying up as regulators turn tough on start-ups. About 126 companies have cancelled or suspended applications for initial public offerings on Shanghai’s tech-focused Star Market so far in 2023, more than in the previous four years combined.

Killing Kittens, a sex party planner part-owned by the UK government (through a pandemic-era start-up fund) vowed to turn a profit for the taxpayer as it pivots to a new dating app. The Future Fund was launched in April 2020 but has faced criticism for ill-fated investments.

The world of work

Women account for more than 60 per cent of solicitors in England and Wales but only about one-third of partners in law firms. A concerted push is under way to redress the balance.

Critics attacking Gen Z workers for moaning about work burdens are taken to task by columnist Jemima Kelly. Why shouldn’t they take their happiness and quality of life seriously and why do we need to keep glorifying the daily grind as if it were an inherently worthy or virtuous way to live, she asks.

Some good news

Music has long been known as a balm for the soul, but new research suggests a favourite song, especially of the moving/bittersweet variety, can temporarily reduce the perception of physical pain.

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