A secretive annual meeting is kicking off in Madrid with the CEOs of Pfizer, DeepMind and Anthropic

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A secretive annual meeting is kicking off in Madrid with the CEOs of Pfizer, DeepMind and Anthropic

Google DeepMind co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Demis Hassabis gives a conference during the Mobile World Congress (MWC), the telecom industry’s biggest annual gathering, in Barcelona on February 26, 2024.

Pau Barrena | Afp | Getty Images

The CEOs of artificial intelligence heavyweights Google DeepMind, Microsoft AI, Anthropic and Mistral AI are among the elite list of business and political leaders attending a secretive meeting kicking off in Madrid, Spain, on Thursday.

AI will once again dominate discussions at the annual Bilderberg Meeting after catapulting onto the agenda last year following the meteoric rise of the burgeoning technology.

The tech chiefs will be joined by business executives including Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser, former Google CEO and chair Eric Schmidt, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Shell CEO Wael Sawan and investor Peter Thiel for wide-reaching talks spanning trade, finance and biology.

U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg are also among the political figures who will attend for geopolitical discussions including on China and Russia.

A total of around 130 participants, including former and current prime ministers, are set to attend the 70th annual private meeting, which this year runs from Thursday to Sunday in the Spanish capital.

The Bilderberg Meeting is an event shrouded in mystery, with clandestine talks held behind closed doors and subject to Chatham House rules, meaning the identity and affiliation of speakers must not be disclosed or reported on within the media.

According to its organizers, the closed nature of the event aims to foster “informal discussions about major issues.” However, that secrecy has sparked conspiracy theories similar to those leveled against high-level meetings such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with critics accusing attendees of exerting outsized influence on society.

What is on the agenda in 2024?

Key topics up for discussion at this year’s meeting were published by its organizers Thursday, providing an insight into what it deems the most pressing issues on the international agenda:

  • State of AI
  • AI safety
  • Changing faces of biology
  • Climate
  • Future of warfare
  • Geopolitical landscape
  • Europe’s economic challenges
  • U.S. economic challenges
  • U.S. political landscape
  • Ukraine and the world
  • Middle East
  • China
  • Russia

The meeting comes as AI has undergone further rapid advancements over the past year, with the release of several new large language models (LLMs) posing questions around the implications for privacy, the workforce and wider society.

Elsewhere, the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, as well as rising tensions between the U.S. and China, continue to dominate international discussions.

What is Bilderberg?

Now in its 70th year, the Bilderberg Meeting was established in 1954 to “foster dialogue” between Europe and North America.

Today, around two-thirds of participants come from Europe and the rest from North America, with approximately a quarter from politics and government and the remainder from other fields, according to a statement on its website.

Wally Adeyemo, deputy U.S. Treasury secretary, speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

Ting Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

And, as ever, discretion is key. Attendees take part as individuals, rather than in any official capacity, and no official detailed agenda is disclosed nor are the discussions reportable.

“Thanks to the private nature of the Meeting, the participants take part as individuals rather than in any official capacity, and hence are not bound by the conventions of their office or by pre-agreed positions. As such, they can take time to listen, reflect and gather insights. There is no detailed agenda, no resolutions are proposed, no votes are taken, and no policy statements are issued,” a statement released Thursday said.

The event is organized by the Foundation Bilderberg Meeting, which itself is governed by a rotating steering committee, and is funded through a variety of means. There is no attendance fee for the event, though participation is by invitation only and participants are expected to take care of their own travel and accommodation costs.

“Annual contributions by Steering Committee members cover the yearly costs of the small secretariat. The budget of the secretariat is limited to staff and administrative costs. The hospitality costs of the annual meeting are the responsibility of the Steering Committee member(s) of the host country,” a statement on its website added.

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