Is Sunak protecting us from the most immediate AI risks?

Rishi Sunak in Washington DC. Credit: PA

We've heard an awful lot recently from the digital giants - Google, Open AI, Microsoft - about how they're SO worried that their own artificial intelligence inventions could turn into self aware, all-powerful godlike monsters and decide to wipe us out, as so many pesky insects.

It is a risk that our prime minister says he takes seriously - and tonight he told Anushka Asthana that he thinks Britain is well placed to put what he calls guardrails around a malevolent super intelligence, or presumably turn the switch off at birth (though how those guardrails would protect us from an AI monster in China or Russia is not at all obvious).

Plainly it would be wrong to dismiss this danger, given that even a few months ago the experts - including the AI creators - did not expect so-called generative AI services like GPT4 to be so "intelligent" in a human-like way.

But the extreme alarmism - the Terminator-style Armageddon scenario - feels like what magicians would call misdirection.

Because there are three much more immediate dangers, to which neither our government - nor any government to be fair - has much of interest to say.

First is that for all those services where AI is already replacing humans, how do we eliminate pernicious bias? 

Second, how do we stop bad actors using AI to create deadly weapons or hijacking elections with deep fake messages?

And - most importantly - if AI is what economists would call a general purpose technology as powerful as steam or electricity - which it probably is - what will happen to the millions of people set to lose their jobs or see them completely reconstructed in the coming few years?

Sunak is a geek and is good on detail like no other recent UK PM. 

But when he talks about AI he comes across more as an evangelist than someone focused in the necessary obsessive way on protecting us from the economic and social dislocation of the looming industrial revolution. 

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