Washington: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday announced a world-first summit on artificial intelligence, seeking a leading role for the UK in limiting potential doomsday risks as he visited Washington.
Sunak will meet President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday for talks during which he will also voice unstinting support for Ukraine, as the young Conservative leader wages an often uphill battle to show the UK’s post-Brexit relevance.
Opening his two-day trip, the prime minister announced that Britain would hold the world’s first summit on artificial intelligence in the second half of the year.
“AI has an incredible potential to transform our lives for the better. But we need to make sure it is developed and used in a way that is safe and secure,” Sunak said.
“Time and time again throughout history we have invented paradigm-shifting new technologies and we have harnessed them for the good of humanity. That is what we must do again,” he added.
The Group of Seven called for action on AI during a summit in Japan last month.
But the United States also held talks last week on an AI code of conduct with the European Union. Sunak is pitching for a future global AI regulator to be based in London.
“The UK is well placed to play a leadership role. Outside of the US, we are probably the leading AI nation amongst democratic countries. We have an ability to get regulation right to protect our citizens,” Sunak told TalkTV.
– ‘Ultimate sacrifice’ –
Sunak opened his two-day US visit by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, with soldiers firing a 19-gun salute.
“In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in order that we might live free. We will remember them,” said a hand-written message from Sunak on the wreath.
The Ukraine war is expected to dominate his conversations with Biden, with Britain joining the United States in championing robust military support to Kyiv.
The visit comes as Russia and Ukraine trade accusations over who blew up the large Kakhovka dam, triggering devastating floods.
Any intentional targeting of the dam would represent “the largest attack on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine since the start of the war, and just would demonstrate the new lows that we would have seen from Russian aggression,” Sunak told reporters aboard his plane from London.
The United States and Britain have not yet identified a culprit.
But in an interview with ITV News, Sunak said that Russia has pursued a “deliberate strategy to target civilian infrastructure.”
“It is wrong, it’s barbaric, and it’s appalling. That’s why we’re providing such strong support to them and will continue to do so,” he said of the Ukrainians.
Sunak has also been talking up British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace as a candidate to lead NATO before the Western military alliance holds a summit next month in Lithuania, with the prime ministers of Denmark and Estonia also seen as contenders.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s term in the job is due to end in October.
– Keeping hopes on business –
A day before meeting Biden, Sunak met Washington’s top Republican, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who lauded the longstanding alliance.
“When our bond is stronger, the world is safer and democracy grows,” McCarthy said.
Despite broad US support for Britain, Sunak has all but given up on a post-Brexit trade deal from the Biden administration, which has shown limited enthusiasm.
Sunak pointed to the US-UK military alliance as he made a case for the economic relationship.
“Just as interoperability between our militaries has given us a battlefield advantage over our adversaries, greater economic interoperability will give us a crucial edge in the decades ahead,” said Sunak, a wealthy former banker who studied in the United States and retains a property in California.
The prime minister is pushing for US relief to UK carmakers, via greater access to critical minerals used in batteries, after Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act offered vast subsidies to companies with US operations.
Sunak was due later to watch the Washington Nationals baseball team play the Arizona Diamondbacks for the second annual “UK-US Friendship Day,” marking 238 years of diplomatic relations.
But the keen cricketer ducked the opportunity to throw the ceremonial first pitch — sparing his blushes if the throw goes astray in front of thousands.