AI summit branded ‘missed opportunity’ by UK civil society orgs

Over 100 civil society organisations have criticised the UK government’s upcoming AI summit in November, calling the event a “missed opportunity.”

In an open letter to prime minister Rishi Sunak, the organisations warned that the event focuses too much on BigTech, adding that communities and workers most affected by AI have been marginalised by the summit.

The letter, coordinated by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Connected by Data, and Open Rights Group, was signed by major and international trade union confederations, as well as human rights groups like Amnesty International, the British Computing Society, academics and members from the House of Lords.

It called the summit a “closed door” event which is focused on the future existential risks of frontier AI systems built by companies who are looking to influence legislation and rules around the technology.

It added that the risks and harms were affecting “many millions of people” worldwide at the present time, claiming that people are being fired from their jobs by an algorithm, profiled for financial products by their identity and subjected to “authoritarian biometric surveillance.”

The letter said that to make AI truly safe, the government had to include small businesses as well as tech companies and take into account issues of societal significance.

“For the Summit itself and the work that has to follow, a wide range of expertise and the voices of communities most exposed to AI harms must have a powerful say and equal seat at the table. The inclusion of these voices will ensure that the public and policy makers get the full picture,” the letter said.

“In this way we can work towards ensuring the future of AI is as safe and beneficial as possible for communities in the UK and across the world,” it concluded.

“The government has bungled what could have been an opportunity for real global AI leadership due to the Summit’s limited scope and invitees,” said Abby Burke, open rights group policy manager for Data Rights. “The agenda’s focus on future, apocalyptic risks belies the fact that government bodies and institutions in the UK are already deploying AI and automated decision-making in ways that are exposing citizens to error and bias on a massive scale.”

She continued: ”It’s extremely concerning that the government has excluded those who are experiencing harms and other critical expert and activist voices from its Summit, allowing businesses who create and profit from AI systems to set the UK’s agenda."

The government’s AI Summit is taking place on 1 and 2 November at Bletchley Park.

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