Artificial intelligence – the opportunity and the challenge

Executive summary

1. Artificial intelligence (AI) is already delivering wide societal benefits, from medical advances[footnote 1] to mitigating climate change.[footnote 2] For example, an AI technology developed by DeepMind, a UK-based business, can now predict the structure of almost every protein known to science.[footnote 3] This breakthrough will accelerate scientific research and the development of life-saving medicines – it has already helped scientists to make huge progress in combating malaria, antibiotic resistance, and plastic waste.

2. The UK Science and Technology Framework[footnote 4] sets out government’s strategic vision and identifies AI as one of 5 critical technologies. The framework notes the role of regulation in creating the environment for AI to flourish. We know that we have yet to see AI technologies reach their full potential. Under the right conditions, AI will transform all areas of life[footnote 5] and stimulate the UK economy by unleashing innovation and driving productivity,[footnote 6] creating new jobs and improving the workplace.

3. Across the world, countries and regions are beginning to draft the rules for AI. The UK needs to act quickly to continue to lead the international conversation on AI governance and demonstrate the value of our pragmatic, proportionate regulatory approach. The need to act was highlighted by Sir Patrick Vallance in his recent Regulation for Innovation review. The report identifies the short time frame for government intervention to provide a clear, pro-innovation regulatory environment in order to make the UK one of the top places in the world to build foundational AI companies.[footnote 7]

4. While we should capitalise on the benefits of these technologies, we should also not overlook the new risks that may arise from their use, nor the unease that the complexity of AI technologies can produce in the wider public. We already know that some uses of AI could damage our physical[footnote 8] and mental health, [footnote 9] infringe on the privacy of individuals[footnote 10] and undermine human rights.[footnote 11]

5. Public trust in AI will be undermined unless these risks, and wider concerns about the potential for bias and discrimination, are addressed. By building trust, we can accelerate the adoption of AI across the UK to maximise the economic and social benefits that the technology can deliver, while attracting investment and stimulating the creation of high-skilled AI jobs.[footnote 12] In order to maintain the UK’s position as a global AI leader, we need to ensure that the public continues to see how the benefits of AI can outweigh the risks.[footnote 13]

6. Responding to risk and building public trust are important drivers for regulation. But clear and consistent regulation can also support business investment and build confidence in innovation. Throughout our extensive engagement, industry repeatedly emphasised that consumer trust is key to the success of innovation economies. We therefore need a clear, proportionate approach to regulation that enables the responsible application of AI to flourish. Instead of creating cumbersome rules applying to all AI technologies, our framework ensures that regulatory measures are proportionate to context and outcomes, by focusing on the use of AI rather than the technology itself.

7. People and organisations develop and use AI in the UK within the rules set by our existing laws, informed by standards, guidance and other tools. But AI is a general purpose technology and its uses can cut across regulatory remits. As a result, AI technologies are currently regulated through a complex patchwork of legal requirements. We are concerned by feedback from across industry that the absence of cross-cutting AI regulation creates uncertainty and inconsistency which can undermine business and consumer confidence in AI, and stifle innovation. By providing a clear and unified approach to regulation, our framework will build public confidence, making it clear that AI technologies are subject to cross-cutting, principles-based regulation.

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