October 24, 2023

"We simply don’t understand the risks" — three takeaways from the UK’s plan for an AI-driven economy

The UK's minister for science, innovation and technology has laid out a vision for how the country's economy can harness AI

Tim Smith

2 min read

The UK government says it will focus on safety, security and trust as it prepares for a future “increasingly driven by AI.” 

Michelle Donelan, the UK minister for science, innovation and technology, was speaking at centre-right think tank Onward today ahead of the UK’s AI Safety Summit next week.

The summit is an effort by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to make the UK the “intellectual and geographical home of global AI safety regulation.”


Sunak, who has long cast himself as pro-tech, wants to turn the UK into “the next Silicon Valley,” in an attempt to capitalise on the country’s strong research community and tech sector as the country defines its future outside of the EU.

Now Donelan has laid out how the UK government hopes that AI will fit into that vision.

Here are three takeaways from her speech

AI safety is important, but premature legislation is not

Donelan likened AI development to air travel — “once considered a very dangerous new technology and now one of the safest and most beneficial technologies in human history” — saying that it will be crucial to have the right safety mechanisms to boost consumer confidence in the technology.

She added that “in many cases, we simply don’t understand the risks in enough detail” yet, and said the government has hired experts to assess emerging risks from AI, and does not plan to legislate before fully understanding them.

She said the UK is considering the creation of an international body, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to govern AI internationally.

The UK doesn’t need to compete with private industry when it comes to compute, apparently

The UK is “ahead of the game” when it comes to building sovereign AI compute capacity, Donelan said, mentioning the government’s £900m supercomputer plan.

Responding to a followup question from Sifted, on how companies like OpenAI and Anthropic have received up to $11bn and $4bn in investment respectively from big tech, Donelan said that the UK “doesn’t need as much compute capacity” as Microsoft or Amazon. She did not elaborate on why.

Education needs to change to match future disruption to job market

Donelan said that, while AI might change the nature of jobs in the future, new jobs will be created by the technology as well. She also said that AI will help to “remove some of the bits of our jobs that distract from our actual purpose,” mentioning doctors as an example.

The UK will “need to have the education system to match changing needs” in the economy, Donelan said. She cited the country expanding its masters conversion courses in AI and data science, as well as the need for further reskilling and upskilling of the workforce.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is news editor at Sifted. He covers deeptech and AI, and produces Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast . Follow him on X and LinkedIn