The UK strengthens its position as a global leader in AI

Describing it as one of the “technologies of tomorrow”, the government said AI contributed £3.7bn ($5.6bn) to the UK economy last year. The UK Science and Technology Framework sets out the government’s strategic vision to make the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030. It identifies AI as one of five critical technologies and notes that regulation plays an important role in creating an environment for AI to flourish.

In April 2021, the European Commission proposed the AI Act, a draft legislation that set out rules for governing AI within the EU. This draft has since been amended by the EU Council and Parliament, with the final text set to be agreed by late 2023 or early 2024. The EU’s horizontal approach provides overarching rules for AI, but its rigidity has drawbacks for a fast-moving field like AI. Notably, the risk framework proposed may struggle to adapt to new developments.

The UK has taken a different approach to AI regulation, favouring a “vertical” strategy that relies on existing regulators considering the impacts of AI on their jurisdictions. This position was first laid out in 2018 and subsequently affirmed in the recently published AI Regulation White Paper. However, after receiving industry feedback emphasising that this approach risked inconsistency, overlap, and gaps, the Government proposed a set of central functions to support regulatory coordination and to monitor cross-cutting risks.

The rationale behind the UK’s vertical approach is that it limits new regulatory burdens which may hinder innovation, while also providing sufficient flexibility to deal with new technological advances. Given the difficulty the EU has faced in updating its regulatory framework, there is some merit to this position.

The key drawback of the UK approach is the continued ambiguity over how it will be enacted in practice. Regulators are being provided with no new powers or funding to support them in addressing AI harms. Little detail has also been provided about what central Government support functions might look like. Because of this, it is unclear whether regulators will have the resources to address emerging risks, particularly from foundation models that have a cross-sectoral impact.

This domestic ambiguity has not prevented the UK touting its credentials as an international leader in AI regulation. Over the past few months, Rishi Sunak has adopted AI as a key international policy priority. He announced that the UK will host the first Global Summit on AI Safety, while also promoting London as the home of a global AI regulatory body.

Through this new approach to AI regulation, the government will help the UK harness the opportunities and benefits that AI technologies present. This will drive growth and prosperity by boosting innovation and investment, and building public trust in AI. It will strengthen the UK’s position as a global leader in AI, by ensuring the UK is the best place to develop and use AI technologies.

How soon will you onboard your team?