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What will Elon Musk and Rishi Sunak talk about in their AI chat at Bletchley Park today?

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UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and Elon Musk are both at the UK AI summit

TOLGA AKMEN/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock; Leon Neal/PA Images/Alamy

The UK’s AI Safety Summit closes today, with UK prime minister Rishi Sunak convening a small group of world and business leaders to discuss the risks of AI. But perhaps the most surprising development is a conversation due to take place this evening between Sunak and entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Full details of the event are still unclear, but it will be broadcast on X, Musk’s social media platform, on a delay. The conversation is scheduled to last 45 minutes and will reportedly be moderated by an unknown individual, with some audience members, including tech executives and journalists, invited to ask questions. Politico reports that the UK government has said that the conversation won’t be edited before broadcast.

So, what will the two men talk about? Here are some possible topics.

The risk of AI doom

Even before Musk arrived in the UK, he was warning about the risks of AI. Speaking to podcast host Joe Rogan, he said that AI development needed to be done carefully to avoid posing existential risks to humanity. It is a message he repeated once he arrived in the UK, telling reporters he thought AI was a real risk.

Not everyone is sure any conversation about risk will be earnestly carried out. “I would speculate that the conversation they have will be framed as a discussion about the merits of AI regulation, but, in reality, it will serve as a stage for these two self-indulgent individuals to flaunt themselves in their aspirational spheres – politics and tech,” says one former Twitter employee who was laid off by Musk, speaking to New Scientist anonymously.

Pausing AI development

Musk was one of the signatories of a letter, published in March, calling for a pause in AI development. The letter suggested that AI companies should halt for six months any development of AI systems more powerful than those that were then state of the art, including OpenAI’s GPT-4 model.

The letter gained attention, but ultimately didn’t make a difference: development has continued apace. Yet in the summaries of panel discussions presented at the end of the first day of the summit, the idea of a development pause was once more raised – and could be discussed by Sunak and Musk.

China’s role in AI

The importance of China in the future of AI development is an important discussion point, but could be one that both men would prefer to duck.

For Sunak, there is a desire to court Chinese investment and wealth, keeping the country onside, while also avoiding awkward discussions with more sceptical wings of his Conservative party, who argued against inviting China to the summit in the first place.

Musk also has his own China issue: around 1 in every 8 electric vehicles sold in China are made by Musk’s company, Tesla, while the firm operates the biggest car manufacturing plant in the world outside the US, in Shanghai.

A Musk wild card

One of the challenges of agreeing to a spontaneous conversation with Musk is his infamous unpredictability. Given his business interests in electric vehicles, space exploration and social media, there is a possibility that Musk could ask Sunak to commit to supporting one or more of his firms, or the industries in which they operate. Or perhaps he will just say whatever happens to be on his mind at that moment.

“I’m sure [Musk] will put on his best impression of a reasonable and sage innovator, but my money is on him dropping enough wild-eyed and attention-grabbing hysteria that Rishi may end up struggling to keep any sort of focus on reality and responsible action,” says Mike Katell at the Alan Turing Institute in London. “Meanwhile, the PM wants so much to look like he’s as cool as the tech bros. But, given his debating partner, I think he’ll be lucky to emerge looking anything other than flat-footed and sycophantic.”

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