The U.K. wants the world to know that unlike in Brussels, it will not bother AI innovators with regulatory drama.
While the EU frets about risky AI and product safety, the U.K.’s AI strategy, unveiled on Wednesday, promised to create a “pro-innovation” environment that will make the country an attractive place to develop and deploy artificial intelligence technologies, all the while keeping regulation “to a minimum,” according to digital minister Chris Philp.
The U.K.’s strategy, which markedly contrasts the EU’s own AI proposed rules, indicates that it’s embracing the freedom that comes from not being tied to Brussels, and that it’s keen to ensure that freedom delivers it an economic boost.
In the strategy, the country sets outs how the U.K. will invest in AI applications and help other industries integrate artificial intelligence into their operations. Absent from the strategy are its plans on how to regulate the tech, which has already demonstrated potential harms, like the exams scandal last year in which an algorithm downgraded students’ predicted grades.
The government will present its plans to regulate AI early next year.
Speaking at an event in London, Philp said the U.K. government wants to take a “pro-innovation” approach to regulation, with a light-touch approach from the government.
“We intend to keep any form of regulatory intervention to a minimum,” the minister said. “We will seek to use existing structures rather than setting up new ones, and we will approach the issue with a permissive mindset, aiming to make innovation easy and straightforward, while avoiding any public harm while there is clear evidence that exists.”
Despite the strategy’s ambition, the lack of specific policy proposals in it means industry will be watching out for what exactly a “pro-innovation” policy will look like, according tech lobby TechUK’s Katherine Holden.
“The U.K. government is trying to strike some kind of healthy balance within the middle, recognizing that there’s the need for appropriate governance and regulatory structures to be put in place… but make sure it’s not at the detriment of innovation,” said Holden.
Break out, or fit in?
The U.K.’s potential revisions to its data protection rules are one sign of what its strategy entails. The country is considering scrapping a rule that prohibits automated decision-making without human oversight, arguing that it stifles innovation.
Like AI, the government considers its data policy as an instrument to boost growth, even as a crucial data flows agreement with the EU relies on the U.K. keeping its own data laws equivalent to the EU’s.
A divergent approach to AI regulation could make it harder for U.K.-based AI developers to operate in the EU, which will likely finalize its own AI laws next year.
“If this is tending in a direction which is diverging substantially from EU proposals on AI, and indeed the GDPR [the EU’s data protection rules] itself, which is so closely linked to AI, then we would have a problem,” said Timothy Clement-Jones, a former chair of the House of Lords’ artificial intelligence liaison committee.
Clement-Jones was also skeptical of the U.K.’s stated ambition to become a global AI standard-setter. “I don’t think the U.K. has got the clout to determine the global standard,” Clement-Jones said. “We have to make sure that we fit in with the standards” he said, adding that the U.K. needs to continue to work its AI diplomacy in international fora, such as at the OECD and the Council of Europe.
In its AI Act, the European Commission also sets out a plan to boost AI innovation, but it will strictly regulate applications that could impinge on fundamental rights and product safety, and includes bans for some “unacceptable” uses of artificial intelligence such as government-conducted social scoring. The EU institutions will be far along in their legislative work on AI by the time the U.K. comes out with its own proposal.
“Depending on the timeline for AI regulation pursued by Brussels, the U.K. runs the risk of having to harmonize with EU AI rules if it doesn’t articulate its own approach soon,” said Carly Kind, the director of the Ada Lovelace Institute, which researches AI and data policy.
“If the UK wants to live up to its ambition of becoming an AI superpower, the development of a clear approach to AI regulation needs to be a priority,” Kind said.
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