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Prizewinning Birds Vs. AI

By Natasha Baulis, Researcher, Maxim Institute

What do the Bird of the Year Awards and the Bletchley AI Summit have in common? More than you might think. Both kicked off this week, and both made it into the global intelligence newsletter in my inbox.

Unfortunately, whilst diplomats, strategists, and political nerds worldwide now know that this time two years ago, Kiwis voted a bat the best bird in our nation, most New Zealanders are blissfully unaware that 29 countries reached a declaration of commitment to AI safety at Bletchley Park—previously the top-secret location of UK code-breakers during WWII. We didn’t even manage to turn up.

Blame the caretaker government, perhaps? Yet, as recently as 29 October, officials from our Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment were expecting to participate. The Summit took place from 1-2 November. Both the Ukraine and Israel had representation there, and they do both have a bit going on.

I recently returned home from a trip to Europe. With the sun finally making an appearance, the vibrant greens and incessant chirrups of Spring—not to mention the intrigue of the 100th Bird of the Year Awards—our place feels like an oasis.

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These lovely islands are truly blessed, both for their natural beauty and the beautiful spirit of peace that dwells in them. There is a great distance between Aotearoa New Zealand and some of the ugliest and most brutal humanitarian tragedies currently occurring in the wider world.

But with the rise of AI technologies, that distance is shrinking.

Maxim recently published a paper on the threat that AI poses to democracy here. It’s not only at the highest levels that we will feel the impacts of these technologies. In 2019, a flurry of votes from Russia for the Bird Awards brought the final tally under scrutiny.

The Bletchley Declaration is a landmark, an international commitment to design, develop and deploy AI “in a manner that is safe, in such a way as to be human-centric, trustworthy and responsible.”

In the same week as the Bletchley Summit, US President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order requiring AI developers to “share their safety test results and other critical information with the U.S. government” prior to public release. The order follows a year of action by other countries and international bodies. The EU began work on regulations on the development and use of AI in 2021, and though they are yet to be passed into law, there has been significant progress on these throughout 2023. Aotearoa New Zealand does not have any AI-specific laws. Our only AI-specific policy is the Algorithm Charter to which most government agencies, but not all, are signatories.

We can’t afford to be left out of the AI conversation. There’s too much to lose in terms of security, economic advantage and our place in the high-tech race. Also, if malignant foreign actors hijack this year’s vote, the red-billed gull could win Bird of the Century. Everyone knows the tui deserves it, right?

*Maxim Institute is an independent think tank working to promote the dignity of every person in New Zealand by standing for freedom, justice, compassion, and hope.

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