This is one of those weeks when the stars have aligned to create a theme. And that theme is one whose tentacles will reach all of us. The governance of technology affects all of us who use technology – whether we use it to create or to consume. And, let’s face it, increasingly we all do both, especially here at ALLi.
First of all comes a piece of legislation that feels like it’s been longer in the making than George R R Martin’s The Winds of Winter. I am, of course, talking about the UK’s Online Safety Act, which came into force last week. The Act seeks to keep everyone, but especially children, safe on the internet. And it joins the long list of legislation around the world that serves as a reminder just how disconnected legislators are from the technology they seek to regulate (a reminder to keep taking part in consultations as and when they happen in the hope of educating your governments!).
The Online Safety Act will require sites where harmful but legal material is hosted to ensure minors do not access that material. It will also require platforms to provide access to encrypted communications where there is a suspicion of dangerous activity.
Both of these could affect us
The first is more likely to affect us professionally as writers. Because “harmful” is about as well-defined a concept as “obscene” so pretty much all of us might need to watch what we write publicly in case anyone takes against it (I guess at least not being able to post any content online means it’s less likely AI will be trained on it). The latter could be a huge threat to privacy, a concern to everyone but especially journalists among us.
Which brings me to the second topic, which is the governance of AI. We are on the eve of the UK hosting a global AI summit. And everyone is using that as a chance to send the message they take safety concerns seriously. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has listed the dangers of AI – basically a list of different armageddons – and said he wants to position the UK at the forefront of AI’s development (presumably not the forefront of armageddon-making?). He seems less concerned about the less outlandish threats that keep writers and others awake at night, such as encroaching on people’s livelihoods.
I won’t say more about the summit for now as I will inevitably be reporting on it later. But I will report that OpenAI has announced two key initiatives to mark its start. First is a high level group to study the catastrophic risks involved in AI (presumably with a view to stopping rather than assisting them?). And second is the formation of a board to examine how to govern AI.
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