Government Approach to AI (artificial intelligence)

Written by James Milliken

All Quiet on the Westminster Front: The UK Government’s Consultation Response to its March 2023 AI White Paper on a Pro-Innovation Approach to AI

Even a quick look at Google’s “Trends” tool shows an astonishing increase in searches for “AI”, “artificial intelligence” and related terms over the last two years. Beginning in around January 2022, the number of people Googling these topics has exploded – and there is no sign of this slowing down. It’s fair to say that that AI is one of the hottest topics in the world at present, and one can’t blame Collins Dictionary for choosing AI (defined as “the modelling of human mental functions by computer programs”) as its Word of the Year for 2023.[1] So what is the UK Government doing about it?

For now, keeping its powder (reasonably) dry.

In March 2023, the Government published a white paper (the “White Paper”) setting out its proposals “to establish a regulatory framework for AI to drive safe, responsible innovation”.[2] These proposals, to summarise, take a pragmatic and sector-specific approach. Instead of putting in place a comprehensive framework of AI legislation (as the EU is with its proposed Artificial Intelligence Act, which the EU believes has the potential to become a “global standard” akin to the GDPR[3]), the UK Government suggests allowing regulators, who are best placed to understand the risks and needs in their specific sectors, to take a proportionate approach to regulating AI in a way that is appropriate to those sectors.

Following the publication of the White Paper, the Government held a 12-week consultation process to consider submissions, opinions and evidence from members of industry, large businesses, trade unions, research organisations and universities, SMEs, charities and non-profits, regulators, lawyers, public sector organisations and individual members of the public. Having analysed the above, and taken onboard further engagement at the November 2023 AI Safety Summit[4] (held, appropriately enough, at Bletchley Park – during the Second World War, the home of the Government Code and Cypher School which used the world’s first programmable digital electronic computer to crack the Enigma cypher and provide cutting-edge ‘Ultra’ intelligence to Allied armies), the Government published its long-awaited response on 6 February 2024.[5]

In the response, the Government reasserts that there are no plans to introduce comprehensive AI legislation in the UK. Instead, the Government remains committed to “a context-based approach that avoids unnecessary blanket rules” and appears to favour a relatively ‘light-touch’ solution, encouraging existing regulators in key sectors to put appropriate frameworks in place. In particular, it has announced £10m in new funding to assist those regulators in their efforts to understand address the risks and opportunities associated with AI in their given sectors. The implicit goal is to encourage innovation and development and to make the UK an attractive, appealing environment for red-tape conscious businesses.

It seems clear that the Government is, however, keen to remain flexible on this issue, and it hasn’t actually ruled out future legislation. Its aim appears to be to keep as up-to-date as possible: it has announced £80m in funding to launch nine AI research hubs across the UK, and there are already plans for a significant number of additional consultations and calls for evidence. For now, the Government seems happy to allow regulators to take the lead (albeit that key principles will have to be complied with) – but it will have to give some thought to how this domestic approach will interact with an increasingly complicated international regulatory approach. Returning to the comparison with the GDPR, it’s important for the UK to make sure that its approach generally aligns with the frameworks that will apply on the international stage. If the UK really wants to invite AI businesses in, it will need to make sure that those businesses can export their products and services in a unavoidably international, fully integrated market.

If you would like any further information or advice, please contact James Milliken from our Commercial team.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.






About the author

James Milliken


James is a Solicitor in the Commercial team at Carson McDowell. James advises on a range of commercial matters including general commercial contracts, technology and innovation, intellectual property and data protection.

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