UK AI summit: Government testing chatbot for tax and benefits – New Scientist

Explore by section
Explore by subject
Explore our products and services
Ahead of a meeting at Bletchley Park on the future of artificial intelligence hosted by UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, international agreements on AI are coming together
By Chris Stokel-Walker
31 October 2023

G7 nations are keen to work together on regulating artificial intelligence

Yuki Kurose/ AP / Alamy

G7 nations are keen to work together on regulating artificial intelligence
Yuki Kurose/ AP / Alamy
This week, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak is hosting a group of 100 representatives from the worlds of business and politics to discuss the potential and pitfalls of artificial intelligence.
The AI Safety Summit, held at Bletchley Park, UK, begins on 1 November and aims to come up with a set of global principles with which to develop and deploy “frontier AI models” – the terminology favoured by Sunak and key figures in the AI industry for powerful models that don’t yet exist, but may be built very soon.
While the Bletchley Park event is the focal point, there is a wider week of fringe events being held in the UK, alongside a raft of UK government announcements on AI. Here are the latest developments.
Members of the global community have decided that the week of the UK summit is a ripe time to announce their own AI developments. Alongside US president Joe Biden’s executive order on AI, announced yesterday, the G7 group of industrial nations has published a joint statement agreeing to a code of conduct and set of guiding principles for the development of generative AI models.
This agreed text isn’t drastically different to what is expected from the UK summit, nor from the US executive order. It compels organisations to “take appropriate measures” when developing AI tools to “identify, evaluate, and mitigate risks across the AI lifecycle” – such as bias and discrimination.
Anyone who knows anything about diplomacy knows that global consensus isn’t an accident. And Deb Raji at the Mozilla Foundation is glad to see action being taken in step. “This has become mainstream in a way that has caught the eye of policy-makers and alerted them to the reality of the fact that this is technology that needs to be regulated in some comprehensive way,” she says. She would rather it focused on all AI, rather than specifically on generative AI tools, but is happy something is happening.
Sign up to our The Daily newsletter
The latest science news delivered to your inbox, every day.
Overnight, the UK government announced what it calls “a £118 million boost to skills funding” in the field of AI. That isn’t quite true: £117 million of it, earmarked for 12 Centres for Doctoral Training in AI, was announced last month. There is £1 million of new funding for an AI Futures Grants scheme that will help ease the cost of moving to the UK for leading AI researchers who want to migrate to the country.
But what is new are the location and specialisms of the 12 doctoral training centres. To list a few, the University of Oxford will focus on the environment, the University of Edinburgh is working on responsible and trustworthy natural language processing, and Northumbria University will look at AI through a citizen-centred lens.
It is worth noting that the UK isn’t the only country seeking to attract AI talent: yesterday’s US executive order included similar provisions to ease tough US immigration laws for AI specialists.
Yesterday, we highlighted the paucity of civil society representatives invited to the Bletchley Park summit. But just because they weren’t on the guest list, doesn’t mean they aren’t making their voices heard.
A number of unofficial fringe events are taking place to capitalise on the press attention. On 30 October, campaign group The Citizens held what it calls the People’s AI Summit, where Safiya Umoja Noble at the University of California, Los Angeles, spoke about her worries over what is to come. Noble is the author of Algorithms of Oppression, and said she fears that AI will only amplify discrimination and oppression.
“There’s just an overwhelming mountain of evidence [of bias] here,” she said at the event. “I think the bigger question now before us is: why do we have public officials who lack the moral character and courage to confront these companies and their leadership and hold them accountable? We’re talking about maybe a thousand people on planet Earth who are making decisions that will affect billions of people.”
Despite qualms about the guest list at the summit, there are some highly notable attendees from the world of tech. Some of them include:
Yoshua Bengio, a Canadian computer scientist who is often called one of the “godfathers of AI”, alongside Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. Unlike Hinton, who used to work for Google, and LeCun, who works for Meta, Bengio has traditionally steered clear of big tech’s grasp and is currently a professor at the University of Montreal, Canada.
Elon Musk rarely needs any introduction, but he is set to play a pivotal role in this summit – not least because he has got the ear of Sunak, who will be appearing in a livestreamed conversation on X on Thursday. That appears to be a quid pro quo for Musk being a major guest at social events the UK government is planning around the conference. Musk runs xAI, which you can read about here.
Nick Clegg was once the UK’s deputy prime minister, but has since become a senior figure at Meta. He will be offering a twinned perspective at the summit from his time in politics and tech.
We have had two days of anticipation and endless column inches devoted to the summit’s goals and aims, but tomorrow the waiting is over.
Michelle Donelan, the UK’s technology secretary, will kick off proceedings, with round-table discussions among the attendees focusing on the potential risks – from bioterrorism and cybersecurity, from losing control of AI and from integrating it into society. There is still no plan to discuss AI’s environmental impact, which we have highlighted previously.
We are expecting to be drip fed gossip from the discussion, and New Scientist’s Matthew Sparkes will be filing dispatches from the ground.

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak delivered a speech about artificial intelligence on 26 October

Tolga Akmen/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak delivered a speech about artificial intelligence on 26 October
Tolga Akmen/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The UK government is testing a large language model chatbot called Chat that can answer questions citizens may have about tax, student loans and benefits, according to The Telegraph. Chat will be trained on millions of pages hosted on the website, which includes advice on housing, immigration and taxation. The privacy notice for the chatbot says: “GOV.UK Chat is designed to help users to navigate information on GOV.UK, similar to a search function, so in order to provide answers to users it needs all the data it has to provide the most accurate answer.”
However, the newspaper reported that the chatbot wouldn’t be trained on citizens’ private data and users would be prompted not to share such information with the chatbot for data privacy issues. The pilot project is already being tested with businesses and, if successful, could be in the public’s hands shortly.
Sunak has announced a £100 million fund that will aim to promote the development of AI tools in healthcare. The AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission will focus on efforts to treat cancer and slow the onset of dementia by using AI to pore through potential treatments and novel drugs, rather than spending years on laboratory tests.
Members of academia, industry and front-line clinicians will soon be invited to propose projects for funding under the scheme. “Safe, responsible AI will change the game for what it’s possible to do in healthcare, closing the gap between the discovery and application of innovative new therapies, diagnostic tools, and ways of working that will give clinicians more time with their patients,” said Michelle Donelan, the UK’s science and technology secretary, in a statement.
With the guest list for the Bletchley Park summit limited, those left out have raised their concerns about industry capture of the event. In response to the 100 people gathering at the summit, an equal number have signed an open letter to Sunak warning that “communities and workers most affected by AI have been marginalised by the summit”.
The letter echoed the concerns of many academics ahead of the summit that the agenda and discussion would be too dominated by industry interests. “What I fear and suspect is that it will be a meeting dominated by men, many of whom have financial interests that disqualify them from defending the public good, and that it will focus on long-term risks that don’t make big tech uncomfortable, rather than present harms that would force companies to change the way they design and implement AI,” says Carissa Véliz at the University of Oxford, who wasn’t one of the signatories of the letter.
Observers will be watching to see who makes the final list of attendees at the summit. Reuters reports that China is sending along its vice minister of science and technology, despite some calls from people in Sunak’s own Conservative party to ban the country from participating.
We are expecting plenty more announcements from the UK government, although they will have to compete with an executive order, announced today by US president Joe Biden’s White House, focused on AI. US vice president Kamala Harris will also attend the Bletchley Park summit.
Politico, which saw a draft copy of the executive order, reports that the document’s scope is broad, with every federal agency compelled to appoint a chief AI officer, whose job will be to ensure that AI discrimination isn’t encoded into the parts of government they oversee.
Explore the latest news, articles and features
Trending New Scientist articles
Download the app