Rishi Sunak aims to position U.K. as leader in global AI governance

Rishi Sunak

6th June 2023 – (London) Rishi Sunak, the U.K.’s prime minister, is hoping to establish the U.K. as a leader in global AI governance, positioning the country as a pioneer in setting global standards while boosting the emerging AI sector. Sunak plans to pitch this idea to US President Joe Biden during his first White House summit this week. Sunak’s grand plan includes hosting an international AI summit in London this fall, which would convene like-minded allies to discuss the risks of AI and how best to regulate it. Sunak has also expressed interest in hosting a global watchdog on AI similar to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and creating an international research body similar to CERN.

However, the U.K. faces challenges in catching up on the world stage, having left the European Union in January 2020 and, as a result, being locked out of key forums between the EU and U.S. where AI governance plans are negotiated on a bilateral basis. The U.K.’s requests for a similar dialogue with the U.S. have been repeatedly rebuffed, leaving Sunak to pursue direct channels like his upcoming White House summit.

The U.K.’s AI offensive aims to carve out a tech leadership role outside the Tech and Trade Council (TTC), where the E.U. and U.S. are already creating AI systems. The U.K. government wants to create an influential forum that includes other unrepresented countries with advanced AI industries like Japan and South Korea, in addition to the US and EU27 nations. The UK believes its role would be a broker or an amplifier, bringing in other parties as a voice of third countries outside those two blocs.

Sunak’s grand plan for the U.K.’s AI sector represents a marked shift from April, when the U.K. government released an AI white paper that advocated for existing regulators to fold AI into their remits where relevant instead of setting up a dedicated regulator. However, as concern has grown around AI, the U.K. government’s rhetoric has become more cautious, shifting emphasis from pro-innovation to risk-assessment.

The U.K.’s AI task force will play a leading role in settling the question of how AI is governed. Matt Clifford, the interim chair and No. 10’s preferred candidate for the role, represents the technologically-literate version of No. 10. University of Cambridge PhD student Nitarshan Rajkumar, who joined the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) as a policy adviser on AI in April, is also a key player in the task force.

Sunak’s proposals face challenges, as the U.K. is playing catch-up on the world stage and has been locked out of key forums since leaving the EU. However, the U.K. government hopes to position the country as a pioneer in setting global standards in AI governance while boosting the emerging AI sector.