AI could be used to interfere with 2024 elections, Nick Clegg warns

Meta executive plays down fears over long-term risks of AI – dismissing ‘hype’ as akin to 80s-style ‘moral panic’ over video games

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 01 November 2023 11:56 GMT
What's in store at Rishi Sunak's AI safety summit?

Rishi Sunak and other political leaders must prepare for artificial intelligence (AI) being used to interfere with upcoming elections, former deputy PM Sir Nick Clegg has warned.

The former Liberal Democrat leader, who is now president of global affairs at Facebook’s parent compant Meta, made the warning as Mr Sunak’s AI safety summit at Bletchley Park begins.

However, Mr Clegg has compared the growing fears about AI to the 80s-era “moral panic” over video games – dismissing the “hype cycle” on the issue.

“New technologies always lead to hype,” he said. “They often lead to excessive zeal amongst the advocates and excessive pessimism amongst the critics.

“I remember the 80s. There was this moral panic about video games. There were moral panics about radio, the bicycle, the internet.”

Sir Nick did say it was important for industry and government to co-operate “right now” on the role generative AI will play in elections in 2024, with a UK vote expected in autumn and a US election in November.

He pointed to the generative AI tools can use to make images, text, audio and even videos at request by using patterns they recognise in existing media to create new, often very realistic content.

Sir Nick told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it made more sense to try to regulate the “use cases” of AI rather than micromanage the technology itself “through the statute book”.

The Meta executive said this week’s AI summit at Bletchley Park was a “worthwhile endeavour”, but it was important to prevent “proximate challenges” being “crowded out by a lot of speculative, sometimes somewhat futuristic predictions” regarding its capabilities.

Rishi Sunak set to hold live discussion with Elon Musk
Rishi Sunak set to hold live discussion with Elon Musk (AFP/Getty Images/Reuters)

Oliver Dowden, the current deputy PM, said the government was aware of the risks AI posed to the democratic process and would discuss this with leading companies and nations.

He told the BBC: “I think Nick is absolutely right to highlight that and indeed that is one of the topics we will be discussing today at the summit. There is a range of different buckets of risks, and the first one is exactly those kind of societal risks, whether they go to bias, disinformation or the creation of deepfakes.”

The summit is seen as an attempt by Mr Sunak to make Britain a world authority on AI and its safe use.

While representatives from the UK’s allies and other global powers will attend, Downing Street denied the gathering is being snubbed after world leaders including US president Joe Biden confirmed they would not appear.

US vice president Kamala Harris arrives at Stansted Airport
US vice president Kamala Harris arrives at Stansted Airport (PA Wire)

US vice president Kamala Harris – who is attending the UK summit – will say AI has the potential to cause “profound harm” but can also be used to advance human rights and make the world safer.

The vice president will stress that as well as the “existential threats” posed by the technology, there are also everyday risks that it could result in bias, discrimination and the spread of disinformation.

Alongside Mr Clegg, other leading technology leaders attending will include Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla and owner of the X, who has publicly shared his fears about the dangers AI could pose.

The gathering will take place on Wednesday and Thursday at Bletchley Park, home of the UK’s Second World War codebreaking efforts, where noted computer scientist Alan Turing worked.

The first day of the summit will see delegates hold roundtable discussions about the various risks of AI while the second will focus on the responsible use of the technology.

After it closes, Mr Sunak is expected to host a livestreamed interview with Mr Musk.

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