What does a pro-innovation approach to AI mean for UK regulation?

05 April 2023

On the 29th of March 2023 the UK Government released the much-anticipated white paper detailing how the UK will regulate AI. As expected, the UK reaffirmed its stance from July 2022’s National AI Strategy by opting for a pro-innovation approach to AI regulation. The Government introduced a framework with five cross-sector principles to guide and inform the responsible development and use of AI.

  1. Safety, security and robustness
  2. Appropriate transparency and explainability
  3. Fairness
  4. Accountability and governance.
  5. Contestability and redress

Given the lack of consensus for defining AI in practice, the white paper focuses on the distinct characteristics of AI applications within specific sectors, use cases and development. The UK intends to allow regulators to determine the scope of AI within the context of its use. In particular, the white paper outlines that the regulatory regime must reflect these essential characteristics:

  • pro-innovation – enabling rather than stifling responsible innovation;
  • proportionate – avoiding unnecessary or disproportionate burdens for businesses and regulators;
  • trustworthy – addressing real risks and fostering public trust in AI to promote and encourage its uptake;
  • adaptable – enabling people to adapt quickly and effectively to keep pace with emerging opportunities and risks as AI technologies evolve;
  • clear – making it easy for actors in the AI life-cycle, including businesses using AI, to know what the rules are, who they apply to, who enforces them and how to comply with them; and
  • collaborative – encouraging Government, regulators and industry to work together to facilitate AI innovation, build trust and ensure that the voice of the public is heard and considered.

Placing the onus on regulators could be effective to ensure the principles of regulation are applied appropriately, as sector specific expertise may better equip regulators to assess the scope of specific AI use. Additionally, regulator discretion avoids the use of restrictive legislation and leans towards a light-touch approach likely to please most AI stakeholders, by encouraging more flexibility for innovation.

However, there are drawbacks to the UK’s approach, which differs greatly from the EU’s restrictive, risk-based regulatory approach. In particular, given the globalised nature of AI, it is likely that companies that develop and adopt AI applications will in any event require compliance with EU legislation. The intention of the UK’s AI approach may therefore be somewhat eroded.

Overall, the white paper aims to reaffirm the UK’s intention of creating an environment for AI innovation. Given that this white paper is a public consultation, there is scope for the UK to refine its approach for AI regulation to ensure that the pro-innovation approach will be realised in the long-term.

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