LONDON — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended his decision to invite tech tycoon Elon Musk to a livestreamed conversation marking the end of his two-day AI Safety Summit this week.
The billionaire owner of Tesla, SpaceX and X is expected to attend both days of the summit before joining the U.K. PM for a tête-à-tête on Thursday evening to reflect on efforts to manage the risks of advanced AI.
“I think actually if you listen to what Elon Musk is saying, he’s someone who for a long time has been talking about the potential risk of AI and its existential risks,” Sunak told POLITICO’s Power Play podcast.
“But he also talks very passionately as he did today about the incredible benefits that AI can bring — and what I want to do is make sure people are reassured.”
Pressed again on whether it was appropriate for Sunak to give a “special welcome for someone who is criticized for spreading disinformation and endorsing unverified posts,” the PM repeated that Musk has been calling for guardrails on AI for “a very long time,” and is “a leading developer of AI technology himself, so he understands this space particularly well.”
“But this is not just about him,” Sunak added, noting that the U.K. had convened more than 100 national, corporate and civil society delegations for the summit.
Pushed a third time on whether Musk is a “problematic person” due to the way he runs X, given the social network’s track record of hosting disinformation, Sunak hailed the U.K.’s recent legislative efforts to compel social media companies to remove harmful content.
“What we’ve done here in the U.K. is we’ve passed something called the Online Safety Act, which again, I think is on the forward-leaning edge of what other countries have done,” he said.
“That gives us and the regulators here the power to compel large social media companies to remove harmful or illegal content from their platforms,” Sunak added. “It gives the regulator the power to fine them when that isn’t being done.”
Asked if he would be driving this message home to Musk, Sunak said: “I think you’re trying to personalize it … This goes far beyond him. This goes to the safety of our children … You mentioned Meta before, right? This goes to a range of very significant social media platforms. We want to make sure that our children are protected online as they are walking around our streets, and our new act gives us the powers and the regulator the powers to remove harmful content.”
Musk has previously urged caution over AI, signing a letter warning “AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity.”
But there were no fireworks from the firebrand tech tycoon today. Elon Musk “didn’t say a single word,” said one person who was on the same panel as the X owner.