19 July 2023

Home Secretary ‘particularly concerned’ about rapid development of AI chatbots

19 July 2023

The Home Secretary has said she is “particularly concerned” about the rapid development and public deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots like ChatGPT in relation to terrorism and national security.

Suella Braverman’s comments came as she was pressed by Labour and the SNP about an update to the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy, Contest, which acknowledged the potential for AI to facilitate terrorist activities.

Shadow home office minister Holly Lynch insisted “concrete measures are woefully lacking in the update”, and SNP home affairs spokesman Stuart C McDonald asked Ms Braverman if she thinks “legislation is required in this area”.

The Home Secretary emphasised the urgency of addressing unknown risks posed by the technology and the need for collaboration to mitigate the threats to public safety and national security.

Asking an urgent question on the long-awaited update to Contest in the Commons, Ms Lynch said: “We are concerned by certain omissions from the update and the disparity between the threats outlined and the responses proposed.

“On AI, the update recognises the challenge, saying terrorists are likely to exploit the technology.

“We have called for new offences criminalising the training of chatbots to radicalise individuals, but concrete measures are woefully lacking in the update. So how is the Government going to tackle this?”

Mr McDonald said: “I was surprised by the very limited reference in the strategy of the use of artificial intelligence for radicalisation and instruction.

“Can she say, does she believe legislation is required in this area, what more concrete steps are being taken to address use of AI in that way?”

There are still many unknowns with this class of technology... which pose significant but not yet fully understood public safety and national security risks

The Home Secretary said: “It’s clear that foundation model AIs undoubtedly hold vast potential, and they are crucial to the UK’s mission to become a science and tech superpower.

“But there are still many unknowns with this class of technology and many other forms of emerging technology which pose significant but not yet fully understood public safety and national security risks.

“I am particularly concerned about the rapid development and public deployment of generative large language models like ChatGPT, and we are alert to the exponential pace of their development, the emergent capabilities, which make the exact risks difficult to anticipate or control and the relative ease with which safeguards can be overwritten.

“So those at the forefront of those technologies are explicit about their seriousness and of these risks if proper safeguards are not developed quickly.

“So we look forward to promoting and enabling an open and constructive dialogue and deepened collaboration with tech company leaders, industry experts and like-minded nations as we seek to ensure the gifts of this technology are delivered and society is protected.”

Ms Braverman said there was a discussion at the recent Five Eyes security conference in New Zealand about “the emerging hostile use of technology and collaborative ways in which, at the international level, we may work to mitigate those risks”.

The Home Office counter-terrorism strategy was updated on Tuesday for the first time in five years.

Since it was last updated in 2018, there have been nine declared terrorist attacks in the UK in which six people were killed and 20 injured.

Police and security services have also disrupted 39 plots that aimed to target public figures such as MPs, events including the London Pride march, and popular sites in London.

The report found the risk of a terror attack in the UK is rising with domestic plotters harder to detect, a persistent threat from Islamist extremists and advances in technology being exploited.

Ms Braverman told MPs: “Through this updated strategy, we will place greater focus on using all the levers of the state to identify and intervene against terrorists.

“We will build critical partnerships with the private sector and international allies to keep the public safe. And we will harness the opportunities presented by new technology.

“There is no greater duty for this Government than to keep the British people safe. And I will not rest in delivering that mission.”

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