AI Seoul Summit: Implications for the Asia-Pacific

On May 21-22, South Korea and the United Kingdom will jointly host the AI Seoul Summit as a follow-up to last year’s UK AI Safety Summit held in Bletchley Park. This significant gathering will bring together worldwide leaders, technology experts, and academics to advance the global consensus on AI governance as the technology continues to accelerate. The summit, previously known as the AI Safety Summit, has been renamed the AI Seoul Summit to encompass safety, innovation, and inclusivity for all nations.

What will be Discussed?

On the first day, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will host the AI Seoul Summit Leaders’ Session. In this video conference, global leaders will provide updates on how they are fulfilling last year’s commitments to ensure AI safety and more broadly support innovation and inclusivity.

On the second day, a ministerial-level meeting will continue under the co-hosting of the Science and Technology Ministers of the two countries. With participation from representatives of major countries including France, Germany, and Singapore, the session will delve into two specific agendas:

  • Actions to strengthen AI safety: Building on last year’s Bletchley Declaration, there will be an update on the consensus regarding the risks of cutting-edge Frontier AI. The achievements of national AI safety research institutes will be presented, and further international cooperation will be discussed. Additionally, the first version of the International Scientific Report on Advanced AI Safety, led by Turing Award winner Yoshua Bengio, will be unveiled to fulfil the promise of the previous year’s summit.
  • Approaches for sustainability and resilience: Governments will discuss strategies to enhance resilience against the negative effects of AI, aiming for sustainable technological and industrial development. This includes addressing issues related to the environment, labour markets, and misinformation to foster responsible and trustworthy AI.

Simultaneously, South Korea will unilaterally host the AI Global Forum on May 22, inviting government officials, industry leaders, and academics from various countries to engage in discussions on possible directions for the development of a new AI global governance structure. In response to South Korea’s efforts, OpenAI and Google confirmed their participation in February.

Why Korea?

South Korea’s robust initiatives in AI technology and governance influenced its selection to host the follow-up to the UK AI Safety Summit. Both the public and private sectors of the country have strongly committed to AI technology, governance, and ethics, establishing South Korea’s stature as an AI middle-power.

South Korea has played a significant role in technological advancement since the early days of the digital era, a commitment that extends robustly into the AI age. Based on the successes of its native tech companies and top-tier semiconductor industry, the South Korean government plans to spend 7 billion USD on AI and semiconductors by 2027. This includes a 1 billion USD fund specifically for semiconductor innovation. Capitalising on government efforts, the South Korean tech giant Naver developed HyperCLOVA in 2021, the world’s third Large Language Model (LLM) optimised for the Korean language. The company aims to deploy the model in the public sector, slashing bureaucratic inefficiencies and streamlining administrative processes. Such collaborative efforts from both public and private sectors have propelled South Korea to secure 7th place in the Oxford Government AI Readiness Index and 6th in Tortoise’s global AI ranking as of 2023, affirming its status as one of the global AI leaders.

Expanding on its technical advancements, South Korea has committed to advancing AI governance and ethics through international collaboration. After discussions with Geoffrey Hinton, often referred to as the ‘Godfather of AI’ in 2022, President Yoon underscored the necessity for a new digital order in his speeches in New York, Paris, and at the UN General Assembly, where he outlined concrete action plans and proposed the establishment of an international AI organisation. The independent hosting of the AI Global Forum alongside the summit is a direct continuation of the president’s proposal. Additionally, the second meeting of Responsible Artificial Intelligence in the Military Domain (REAIM) is scheduled for Seoul this September, building on its previous session in the Netherlands in 2023. Within the private sector, Naver collaborates with international partners, including Saudi Arabia, to bolster data sovereignty and cultural preservation in their AI and cloud initiatives. Given that approximately 95% of the data for training big-tech AI models comes from North America, Naver’s sovereign AI initiative is significant.

Implications for the Asia-Pacific

The AI Seoul Summit holds significant global implications, but its impact within the Asia-Pacific context is particularly noteworthy:

  • Asia’s Role in AI: Hosting the follow-up of a significant global AI discussion, South Korea will demonstrate the importance of Asian countries and regional groupings in shaping the global AI discourse, as well as influencing the development and deployment of new AI technologies to contribute to sustainable development. The summit could build on existing AI efforts in Asia, including the South Korea-Singapore AI MOU, the establishment of the Korea-Japan digital consultation body, and AI and semiconductor cooperation between Korean and Chinese business leaders.
  • Enhancing Regional AI Cooperation: The summit will serve as a vital platform for AI collaboration among Asian nations. Given the region’s deep reliance on digital economies and the existing technological disparities among its countries, fostering regional cooperation is particularly essential. The summit should note the strong potential for progress in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which endorsed in February 2024 the ambitious ASEAN Guide on AI Governance and Ethics to lay a platform for rolling out responsible AI in the region.
  • Endorsing AI Autonomy: At a time when the United States and China lead in AI technology, and the European Union sets the pace for AI ethics and governance, the AI Seoul Summit illustrates that middle-power nations like South Korea are not only participants but also innovators in the global AI arena. This development could encourage other countries, particularly in Asia, to develop their own AI strategies and capabilities, thereby promoting a broader and more diverse leadership in global AI discourse.

Conclusion
The AI Seoul Summit is expected to support the development of the foundational consensus on AI reached last year in the UK, despite some skepticism about its effectiveness. Broadening the scope of discussions to include technological innovation and inclusivity, the summit will set milestones and targets for the follow-up in Paris. Hosting the summit as an AI middle-power in the Asia-Pacific, South Korea has an opportunity to promote AI cooperation and sovereignty among countries in the region.