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Rishi Sunak battles EU to make Britain the global superpower for multi-billion AI industry

Britain is battling with the EU to become the world’s leader on the opportunities and threats of AI as Rishi Sunak announces the first ever global summit on the issue later this year.

The Prime Minister wants London to be the home of an international regulatory body and is also keen for countries to pool funds for artificial intelligence research, i understands.

But EU officials claim that Brussels is already in talks with the US over regulation and is better positioned than the UK to lead on AI, accusing Mr Sunak of being behind the curve.

The emerging technology presents a key post-Brexit battleground between the UK and Europe.

On his trip to the US the Prime Minister said AI has the capacity to “change our lives” but stressed the need for “guardrails” from the risks it poses, as he announced the UK will host the first specialist summit later this year.

Mr Sunak will use a bilateral meeting with Joe Biden to push for greater co-operation between the UK and US to ensure “like-minded allies” are leading the way in AI regulation.

In a bid to position a post-Brexit UK front and centre of the global response to emerging AI technologies, Mr Sunak is expected to urge the President that safely regulating AI cannot be done by one country alone, but requires a “global effort”.

He said: “I’ve been very clear that of course there are transformative things that AI can do, and you’ve seen that recently whether it’s helping those who are paralysed or whether it’s discovering new drugs, but we need to make sure we protect the country from the risks it poses as well. It is right that we put guardrails in place. That’s what we’re actively doing work on right now.”

The Prime Minister argued the UK was a “natural” choice to pave the way on AI regulation and governance, describing it as “a global leader” on the issue.

Challenged on why other nations would look to a “mid-sized country” like the UK for leadership, Mr Sunak said: “That mid-size country happens to be a global leader in AI. You would be hard pressed to find many other countries, other than the US, in the western world with more expertise and talent in AI. We are the natural place to lead the conversation and that’s what I heard from the CEOs.”

The innovative summit, due to take place in autumn, will consider the risks of AI and how they can be mitigated through collective action by the West, potentially expanding to other countries in due course. Next month Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will also convene the first briefing of the UN Security Council on the impact AI could have on international peace and security.

Stefaan De Rynck, a former adviser to the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and head of the European Commission’s representation in Belgium, claimed that Britain was lagging behind the European bloc. He told a conference in London: “Our goal, to be clear, is to attract AI to Europe, to the European Union.

“And to develop it, you create the regulatory framework that allows it to develop and regulate the high risk elements in line with fundamental rights, data protection, ethics standards and all the rest of it, I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. And hopefully we can be one of the first powerful economic blocs in the world to accept adopt those regulations and so set standards.

“And we’re working with the Americans on the code of conduct.”

UK Government insiders point to the presence of AI pioneer DeepMind in London as evidence that the UK can play a leading role. A source said: “Borders are porous with technology like AI, there needs to be international co-operation for this to succeed, and the starting point for that is being on the same page as like-minded allies.”

Mr Sunak told Channel 4: “When it comes to AI, the UK is unquestionably, by any metric, the leading democratic country outside of the US. When you look at the number of AI companies, the funding, they received the quality of our research base and talent we have – all of that is objective fact.”

Britain’s priorities are to agree a joint approach to regulation – with a global regulator ideally based in the UK – and to set up a body similar to nuclear research group Cern that would pool international funding to carry out large-scale research on AI.

As well as working on international rules, the Government is poised to announce further steps on its regulatory approach within Britain. The new head of the AI taskforce will be unveiled within days.

During his trip to Washington, Mr Sunak will announce an uplift in the funding for students doing postgraduate study and research at UK and US universities for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) subjects.

He met with US politicians on his first day in Washington but is not scheduled to meet Donald Trump. Pressed on why was not seeking to build relations with the former President, who is seeking the White House again, Mr Sunak said he has a “pretty busy schedule”. He added: “I’m meeting key Congressional leaders from both sides and obviously the President. Those are the key engagements that I have.”

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