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UK Government favours global AI agreement over domestic AI legislation

Written by Tue 14 Nov 2023

The UK Government will favour global agreement on artificial intelligence (AI) over new domestic legislation. The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology cited the impracticality of a year-long process for local legislation.

Michelle Donelan addressed concerns about the absence of UK AI legislation in the King’s Speech. This came a week after the AI Safety Summit concluded with an agreement that governments and tech companies should share responsibility for safety testing frontier AI models.

The Government defined frontier AI models as highly capable general-purpose AI models that can perform a wide variety of tasks. These models can match or exceed the capabilities present in today’s most advanced models.

Donelan informed the Commons that the Government plans to introduce a new law on AI regulation in the future. She stressed that ministers will not be hurried into law-making, despite the EU and USA initiating steps toward their AI safety goals.

The EU is finalising the EU AI Act which outlined rules for AI following a risk-based procedure dependent on the level of risk AI could create.

The Biden-Harris Administration secured voluntary commitments from seven leading AI companies in July 2023 to promote the safe, secure, and transparent development of AI technology.

The Blueprint to the AI Bill of Rights, introduced by the White House, was published in October 2022 to help ensure the ethical and responsible development of AI.

Government Officials Fail to See Eye to Eye

Shadow Minister for AI and Intellectual Property, Matt Rodda, called for Government action to regulate evolving technology in the UK. 

“It is confusing for the public to hear a Prime Minister, on the one hand, tell the country that there are dangers to our way of life from AI, but at the same time saying that his Government is in no rush to regulate,” said Rodda.

Donelan countered Rodda’s claim with the Government’s AI White Paper on AI Regulation. The White Paper outlines five key principles for AI: Safety, security, robustness; Appropriate transparency and explainability; Fairness; Accountability and governance; and Contestability and redress.

However, the White Paper received criticism from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for including inadequate safeguards to tackle the risks to human rights. 

Donelan emphasised the importance of what the Government has achieved through the Summit. She stressed the agreement to test pre-deployment is ‘monumental’ and is only the start of the process.

“We could have waited … but we don’t have a year to wait, because these next set of models will be coming out within six months,” said Donelan.

Former Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark, said the UK could fall behind international competitors to legislate AI regulation, since a new law is now unlikely before the next general election.

Clark also queried the absence of the new law outlined in the Government White Paper in March from the latest legislative agenda.

“So will the Secretary of State think again in publishing the response to the White Paper? To take this final opportunity before a general election to make sure that the good intentions and practices of the Government are not left behind.

 “We find that other jurisdictions precede in advance of our legislation here, and that inadvertently other people set the rules rather than this United Kingdom setting the framework for the world,” said Clark.

Donelan emphasised the need to properly understand the risks of AI before the Government faces them.

“We will have to eventually legislate … But there is a lot that we can do without legislation. We have demonstrated that just last week by convening the world for collective action,” said Donelan.

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Written by Tue 14 Nov 2023

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