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July 18, 2022updated 20 Jul 2022 3:03pm

UK government to set out AI regulation plans

Existing UK regulators will be given powers to police AI under new plans to be revealed today.

By Matthew Gooding

The UK government will reveal its plans for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) today, and says it wants to hand more powers to existing regulators to deal with algorithms and automated systems, rather than setting up a dedicated body to look at issues around AI.

The UK government, which is setting out rules for AI regulation
The UK government will set out its plans to regulate AI today. (Photo by IR_Stone/iStock)

Plans outlined in a new AI paper, being published this morning, would involve regulators such as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Competition and Markets Authority being asked to monitor the impact of AI on their sectors, based on a set of guiding principles. The government says the regulators will be encouraged to take a “light touch” approach to enforcing these principles.

The paper will be published this morning when the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, previously referred to as the Data Reform Bill, which sets the UK’s post-Brexit data regime, is introduced in parliament.

What will UK AI regulation look like?

Full details of the UK AI regulations have yet to be revealed, but the government says its plans will “allow different regulators to take a tailored approach to the use of AI in a range of settings.” It claims this “better reflects the growing use of AI in a range of sectors”.

The regulators will be asked to assess AI systems on six core principles, which require developers and users of AI systems to ensure that AI is used safely, that it is technically secure and functions as designed and that it is appropriately transparent and explainable. Users and developers will need to consider fairness, identify a legal person to be responsible for AI, and clarify routes to redress or contestability in the event of a dispute.

If an issue arises, regulators “will be encouraged to consider lighter touch options which could include guidance and voluntary measures or creating sandboxes – such as a trial environment where businesses can check the safety and reliability of AI tech before introducing it to market,” the government says.

The government will launch a call for evidence on the plans later today, with the responses feeding into an upcoming AI white paper.

How does EU AI regulation differ?

The UK AI regulation approach differs from the European Union’s approach. The EU AI act, which is currently going through the European Parliament, takes a much more prescriptive approach to different types of AI systems which could produce harmful outcomes or reinforce biases.

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AI is currently an area where minimal legislation exists globally, and Professor Dame Wendy Hall, acting chair of the UK’s AI Council, described the government’s plans as a “welcome step” towards creating coherent regulation around AI. “This is critical to driving responsible innovation and supporting our AI ecosystem to thrive,” she said. “The AI Council looks forward to working with government on the next steps to develop the white paper.”

The UK’s post-Brexit data laws

The proposed AI regulations are part of the government’s plan to build its post-Brexit data regime, which will see the country move away from the EU’s GDPR.

Alongside the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, the Intellectual Property Office has put forward changes to copyright law that would allow data scientists to mine text and data to train commercial AI and machine learning models without fear of infringing copyright or being obliged to pay additional fees.

Though the government claims its new approach will promote innovation, campaigners have criticised the consultation around the Data Reform Bill, saying the views of civil rights groups were ignored.

What’s more, fears have been raised that the increased political oversight of the ICO detailed in the bill may prove problematic. Speaking to Tech Monitor last month, Mariano delli Santi, legal and policy officer at the Open Rights Group, said the legislation will “codify cronyism into law”. Delli Santi said: “The secretary of state is being given the power to arbitrarily amend the Commissioner’s salary, issue ‘a statement of priorities’ to their office, and vetoing the adoption of statutory codes and guidance, thus exposing the ICO to political direction, corporate capture and corruption.”

Read more: Meta still has questions to answer about its responsible innovation and AI plans

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