The UK Government recently published its AI Governance and Regulation: Policy Statement (the “AI Statement”) setting out its proposed approach to regulating Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) in the UK. The AI Statement was published alongside the draft Data Protection and Digital Information Bill (see our blog post here for further details on the Bill) and is intended to live alongside the Government’s post-Brexit data protection reforms. The Statement builds on the UK Government’s ten year National AI Strategy (as detailed in our blog post here) and includes a call for views and evidence that closes on 26 September.
Unlike the EU’s cross-sector AI Act which is currently making its way through the legislative process (see our post on the proposed Regulation here), the AI Statement does not propose introducing a new standalone regulatory framework for AI. The UK Government notes that it does not think it is currently necessary to introduce legislation on AI; rather it envisages adopting a set of high-level AI principles to be developed and implemented by sectoral regulators. Regulators will be asked to consider guidance or voluntary measures in the first instance, and the UK Government will keep this non-statutory approach under review.
Scope – defining AI
The AI Statement does not put forward a universally applicable definition of AI, and instead suggests two broad characteristics that would put an AI system within the scope of regulation:
- Adaptive systems that operate on the basis of instructions and “have not been expressly programmed with human intent”, highlighting in particular the difficulties in explaining the logic or intent by which an output has been produced; and
- Autonomous systems that can operate in dynamic environments by automating complex tasks and making decisions without the ongoing control of a human, highlighting the challenges of assigning responsibility for actions taken by AI systems.
The UK Government hopes that this approach can be as flexible as the technology requires and regulators will be able to develop a more granular and bespoke definition of AI within each sector.
Cross-sectoral AI principles
The AI Statement identifies several key challenges the Government will seek to address as part of its approach to regulating AI: lack of clarity over how the UK’s existing laws apply to AI; inconsistency between the powers of regulators to address the use of AI within their remit; and current and future AI risks not being adequately addressed by existing legislation. The AI Statement confirms that the UK is heading towards a sector-based approach for AI regulation, and asserts that regulators are best placed to shape the approach for their area of expertise. The intention is that AI regulation should be context-specific, and that interventions are based on “real, identifiable, unacceptable levels of risk” so as not to stifle innovation.
Acknowledging that there’s less uniformity in a cross-sectoral approach, the AI Statement proposes that all regulation of AI systems be subject to six overarching principles to ensure coherence and streamlining. The six principles are based on the OECD’s Principles on AI (as previously discussed on this blog) and demonstrate the UK’s commitment to them:
- Ensure that AI is used safely
- Ensure that AI is technically secure and functions as designed
- Make sure that AI is appropriately transparent and explainable
- Embed considerations of fairness into AI
- Define legal persons’ responsibility for AI governance
- Clarify routes to redress or contestability
These principles will be interpreted and implemented by existing regulators. The AI Statement notes that in considering the roles, powers, remits and capabilities of regulators, the Government will work with a broad selection of regulators, such as the Information Commissioner’s Office (“ICO”), the Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”), Ofcom, the Medicine and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (“MHRA”) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”). Importantly, the Government will consider if there is a need to update the powers and remits of these regulators to be able to apply this new regime, noting at the same time that equal powers for regulators is unnecessary, and neither is a uniform approach.
In addition to the AI Statement, the Government published its AI Action Plan, rounding up actions taken and planned to deliver the UK’s National AI Strategy. The plan confirms that a white paper on AI governance will be published towards the end of this year along with a public consultation. The call for views that forms part of the AI Statement will be open until 26 September.
* * * *
Covington regularly advises the world’s top technology companies on their most challenging regulatory, compliance, and public policy issues in the UK and other major markets. We are monitoring the UK’s developments very closely and will be updating this site regularly – please watch this space for further updates.