As the UK gears up to host a high-profile artificial intelligence (AI) summit this week, more than 100 labor groups and rights activists around the world have voiced their concerns.
They accuse the British government of sidelining millions of workers. Furthermore, they claim that Big Tech giants have a disproportionate influence on events. Tensions are high at Bletchley Park, where the film is set, despite a sense of unease among activists and labor groups.
Ahead of the UK’s AI Safety Summit, more than 100 individuals and labor groups have accused the government of “locking out” workers from the event in favor of big tech (@cristinacriddle / Financial Times)https://t.co/ksUnM7eSmZhttps://t.co/bSFg5fYQt7
— Techmeme (@Techmeme) October 30, 2023
Open letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak
On Monday, open letter reached Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s desk, expressing the collective fears of trade unions and rights campaigners. The International Trade Union Confederation and the Trades Union Congress (UK) are prominent promoters. Importantly, they are joining rights groups such as Amnesty International and Liberty in calling for a more comprehensive approach.
At the heart of their argument is the claim that the summit has alienated the communities and workers most affected by AI. As a result, they argue, the discourse is severely lacking in the most important perspectives and voices. This letter highlights the risks and harms of AI at this time and emphasizes the immediacy of the issue.
Big Tech’s unbridled influence
“The risks and harms of AI are not far away; they are felt here and now,” the letter emphasizes. It also criticizes the Sunak government’s hand-picked guest list, accusing it of providing a platform primarily to big tech at the expense of wider society and small businesses. “Small businesses and artists are being squeezed out and innovation is being stifled,” the letter claims.
Kate Bell, TUC Deputy General Secretary, makes a persuasive point:
“AI is already making life-changing decisions about how we work, how we hire, and who we fire. Techies and politicians shouldn’t be the only ones shaping the future of AI. It won’t.”
The call for a more democratic and inclusive approach is straightforward. There is an urgent need for diverse expertise and the inclusion of communities most vulnerable to AI harm. Additionally, industries expected to bear the brunt of the impact of generative AI, such as education and journalism, are speaking out in solidarity.
While there are concerns, there is also recognition of AI’s transformative power. A report by Goldman Sachs highlights this, estimating that around two-thirds of occupations are currently exposed to AI. The system is reportedly capable of running one-quarter to one-half of the workload.
Additionally, the two-day summit aims to address specific risks posed by AI. These include the potential to help design biological weapons or generate code for cyberattacks. Despite these lofty goals, critics say the summit’s focus is misplaced. They believe we are too fixated on the speculative and existential risks of frontier AI systems.
Jeni Tennison, executive director of Connected By Data, emphasizes the need for a shift in focus.
“AI is already causing harm through facial recognition and algorithmic bias, and those are the things we need to address,” she argues.
Protecting the inclusivity of the summit
In response, the UK government defended the inclusiveness of the summit. The event claims to bring together a diverse range of participants across international governments, academia, pioneering AI companies, and civil society.
With the Summit just around the corner, the international community is watching, waiting, and hoping for a balanced, comprehensive, and forward-thinking discussion on AI. The hope is that technology will shape a future that empowers rather than marginalizes and where innovation fosters inclusion. The world is looking forward to a summit that not only addresses risks but also unlocks the potential of AI for the greater good.