King Charles says the risks of artificial intelligence (AI) need to be tackled with “a sense of urgency, unity and collective strength”.
He made the remarks in a taped address to attendees at the UK’s AI Safety Summit.
As the global meeting opened, the UK government unveiled a “world first agreement” on how to manage the riskiest forms of AI.
The Bletchley Declaration’s signatories include the US, the EU and China.
The summit focuses on so-called “frontier AI” – by which ministers mean highly advanced forms of the tech with as-yet unknown capabilities.
Ahead of the meeting, Tesla and X owner Elon Musk, who is attending, said he thinks AI could lead to humanity’s extinction – without any detail on how that could actually happen in reality.
Others have warned against speculating about unlikely future threats and said the world should instead focus on the potential present-day risks AI poses, such as replacing some jobs and entrenching bias.
In his address, King Charles called the development of advanced AI “no less important than the discovery of electricity”.
He said tackling the risks of AI would, like efforts to combat climate change, need to involve conversations across societies, governments, civil society and the private sector.
The UK government said the Bletchley Declaration, which attendees have signed, has seen 28 countries agree there is an urgent need to understand and collectively manage potential AI risks.
Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said it was an important moment: “We have always said that no single country can face down the challenges and risks posed by AI alone, and today’s landmark declaration marks the start of a new global effort to build public trust by ensuring the technology’s safe development.”
Other countries have also stressed the need for a global approach to managing the technology.
Relations between China and the West are fraught in many areas – but the country’s Vice Minister of Science and Technology, Wu Zhaohui, told the conference it was seeking a spirit of openness in AI.
“We call for global collaboration to share knowledge and make AI technologies available to the public,” he told delegates.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said the US would be launching its own AI Safety Institute following the summit.
In a short interview at the UK’s AI safety summit, Mr Musk said he was not looking for any particular policy outcome from the meeting, suggesting it was important to understand the problem before regulating.
“You’ve got to start with insight before you do oversight,” he said.
Suggestions that environmentalists want to take extreme measures to reduce the world’s population have long been a common trope on social media channels popular with climate change deniers.
For many of those users, climate activists are part of a “death cult” attempting what they describe as a “depopulation agenda”, enforced through drastic action such as forced sterilisations.
There is no evidence to back any of these claims – and you would certainly struggle to find any mainstream climate scientist or environmentalist willing to endorse such policies as a means of tackling climate change.
While rising population numbers have put a huge strain on the planet’s resources, it is also true that some of the most populous nations on earth have some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per capita.
Many experts consider fears that AI might threaten humanity overblown.
Nick Clegg, the president of global affairs at Meta and former deputy prime minister – who is also attending the summit – said people should not let “speculative, sometimes somewhat futuristic predictions” crowd out more immediate challenges.
Many observers feel AI’s biggest threat is in automating away people’s jobs, or building existing bias and prejudices into new, much more powerful, online systems.