Pact puts handbrake on 'defining technology of our age'

A pact signed at the once top-secret home of codebreakers will see governments go toe to toe with big tech companies over the use of artificial intelligence.

Australia has signed the international Bletchley Declaration on the safe and responsible use of AI and has also inked a deal to work with the United Kingdom to accelerate work in quantum technology.

"I'm not worried about robots taking over," Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic said on Friday after a summit in the UK at Bletchley Park, an estate that was the base for codebreakers during World War II.

Ed Husic and the UK's Michelle Donelan
Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic said people need to be able to trust the new technology.

But Mr Husic said he was worried about the prospect that AI-generated fake information could cause harm to people and governments.

"We need to be able to help detect and also be able to project to the public what is synthetic or artificially generated information, and what's the real deal."

Mr Husic said it was not about big tech companies setting all the rules, but rather governments creating a framework so people could trust a technology that was spreading across all corners of the globe.

"Just because you regulate, doesn't stop you from being able to innovate," he added.

"It's been important that Australia is here, that we can not only have our voice heard in a forum like this, but that it can also inform the type of work that we need to do back home."

Australia will also seek to ensure global legal guardrails are in place as the military moves to harness artificial intelligence.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said humans need to stay in charge to ensure international law is followed when using the "defining technology of our age".

"What is fundamentally important is that the rules that we have in place around the way in which we engage in warfare ... still need to be there."

He said there are short-term risks posed by the development of the technology, including misuse of people's data, breaches of privacy and the availability of new tools for cyber criminals.

Rishi Sunak and Elon Musk at the summit
The AI safety summit took place at the historic Bletchley Park estate, the home of WWII codebreakers

Countries at the summit, where the two ministers represented Australia, also agreed to an annual Frontier AI State of the Science report on the latest international research.

CSIRO chief scientist Bronwyn Fox will represent Australia on the panel overseeing the report.

The UK will also establish an AI Safety Institute, staffed by researchers, machine learning specialists and engineers.

Self-declared tech geek Mr Husic said quantum, like AI, will profoundly change the world, meaning international collaboration was essential.

"On the grounds of Bletchley Park, considered the birthplace of modern computing and where Alan Turing envisioned a future for artificial intelligence,  Australia and the UK have signalled their joint determination to shape the next frontier in technology development: quantum."

Companies will share research and expertise to speed up the development of vaccines, computer processing, navigation and logistics.

A memorandum of understanding between the countries supports joint activities under the Australia-UK Cyber and Critical Technology Partnership and the bilateral free trade agreement, Mr Husic said.

Meanwhile US President Joe Biden has signed an executive order that set conditions around the use of AI.

Under it, company safety test results will need to be shared with the government, standards must be put in place and defence and intelligence agencies will be required to use the technology safely and ethically.

The development of AI and advanced quantum technology underpin the second phase of the AUKUS pact between Australia, the UK and the US.

The first phase paved the way for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.