Debbie Heywood

Senior Counsel – Knowledge

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Debbie Heywood

Senior Counsel – Knowledge

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26 April 2023

Radar - April 2023 – 1 of 2 Insights

UK government publishes AI White Paper – no plans for AI-specific legislation

What's the issue?

The UK published its National AI Strategy in September 2021, setting out a ten-year plan to "make Britain a global AI superpower".  In July 2022, DCMS announced its AI Action Plan, again, part of its National AI Strategy. An AI paper set out proposed rules based on six principles for regulators to apply with flexibility in order to support innovation while ensuring use of AI is safe and avoids unfair bias.  Rather than centralising AI regulation, the government proposed allowing different regulators to take a tailored, more contextual approach to the use of AI, based on sandboxes, guidance and codes of practice. 

What's the development?

In March 2023, after some delay, the UK government published its White Paper – 'A pro-innovation approach to AI regulation', which sets out a framework for the UK's approach to regulating AI.  The government has decided not to legislate to create a single function to govern the regulation of AI.  It has elected to support existing regulators develop a sector-focused, principles based approach.  Regulators including the ICO, the CMA, the FCA, Ofcom, the Health and Safety Executive and the Human Rights Commission will be required to consider the following five principles to build trust and provide clarity for innovation:

  • safety, security and robustness
  • transparency and explainability
  • fairness
  • accountability and governance
  • contestability and redress.

UK regulators will publish non-statutory guidance over the next year which will also include practical tools like risk assessment templates, and standards.  The guidance will need to be pro-innovation, proportionate, trustworthy, adaptable, clear and collaborative, underpinned by the following four core elements of the government's AI framework:

  • defining AI based on its unique characteristics to support regulator coordination
  • adopting a context-specific approach
  • providing a set of cross-sectoral principles to guide regulator responses to AI risks and opportunities. The government expects to introduce a statutory duty on regulators to have due regard to the five AI principles, following an initial period
  • delivering new central government functions to support regulators in delivering the AI regulatory framework, including by horizon scanning and supporting an iterative regulatory approach.

Further elements to be considered by regulators are set out in Annex A. 

The government also supports the findings of the Vallance Review published earlier in March, which looked at the approach to regulating emerging and digital technologies.  With regard to AI, Sir Patrick Vallance recommended:

  • The government work with regulators to develop a multi-regulator sandbox to be operational within six months, supported by the Digital Regulatory Cooperation Forum or DRCF (comprising the ICO, CMA, Ofcom and the FCA)
  • The government should announce a clear policy position on the relationship between intellectual property law and generative AI to provide confidence to innovators and investors

Interestingly, while providing for a regulatory sandbox, the AI White Paper does not set out further policy on the relationship between IP and generative AI although the Intellectual Property Office is working on a code of practice which is expected to be ready by the Summer.

The government has also published:

  • a report setting out evidence to support the analysis of impacts for AI governance (supported by the CDEI which confirmed public engagement)
  • a letter from DSIT to the DRCF setting out its role under the AI framework of facilitating cross-regulator engagement on developing AI framework principles, horizon scanning and establishing a cross-sectoral AI sandbox.

What does this mean for you?

The government will monitor the effectiveness of this policy and of the resulting guidance, and consider whether it is necessary to introduce legislation to support compliance with the guidance.  It intends to publish an AI regulatory roadmap which will set out plans for establishing central government functions for the four elements of the AI framework.  The government also plans to publish a draft AI risk register for consultation, an updated roadmap and a monitoring and evaluation report some time after March 2024.

Given the fragmented approach to regulating AI, coupled with the different approaches in different jurisdictions (for example, the European Commission is working on an AI Act by way of top-down legislation), not to mention the pace of technological developments, those developing and using AI will need to pay close attention to worldwide developments.

Watch out for our next edition of Interface which will look at UK policy on AI in more detail and at how it compares with other approaches. Sign up here to receive Interface.

In this series

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