UK’s AI regulation strategy: an actual Brexit benefit?

The government has released its strategy for the regulation of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which it calls a “pro-innovation approach”. To sum it up, no new legislation or regulatory body will be introduced to deal with AI, at least for now. Instead, existing regulatory bodies are tasked to develop AI strategies and make sure that AI does not break current laws, such as the equality act. The aim is to regulate individual use cases of AI, not the technology as a whole. Of course, this leaves AI regulation as a patchwork of different laws in many sectors. The government’s response is to introduce central monitoring and evaluation functions. Their purpose is to provide best practices and risk-assessments for AI on a cross-sectoral basis.

Overall, there is not much to be said about the new regulations, because there are none. No new statutory rights or duties are being introduced – the status quo is being upheld. If you are a friend of minimising regulation and upholding the free market, that is good news. There is an argument to be made that government is not fit to provide large, overarching regulations in a market that changes so quickly. On the other hand, the strategy does nothing to enforce any practices or hold companies accountable. In effect, it is fair to call it a pro-innovation approach.

Much more interesting, politically at least, is the government’s not-so-hidden undertone that this strategy is one of these elusive “Brexit benefits”. The white paper argues that Brexit allows the UK to establish itself as a low-barrier AI superpower. The EU has also recently introduced its AI strategy, which includes a central AI regulator and new laws. Thus, the UK’s strategy is in fact different and less restrictive. However, there is a fundamental flaw in that logic: the vast majority of companies will want to expand to Europe, rather than stay exclusively in the UK. At that point at the latest, they will have to adhere to the EU’s rules. The white paper itself even admits that, by saying that “the need for interoperability across jurisdictions would result in business conforming to the strictest regulation”. This leaves the UK in a situation in which their companies will have to adhere to regulations that the UK had no influence over. If the UK was still in the EU, it could have pushed the EU’s regulation towards a more pro-innovation direction. Thus, Brexit has sadly not empowered the UK to do what it wants. Instead, it has taken away its power to have a say in Europe’s AI strategy.


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