AI legislation has been much in the news, with the European Parliament and Council of the EU reaching long-awaited political agreement on the proposed European Union Artificial Intelligence Act on Friday 8 December. The last few weeks also saw the UK Artificial Intelligence (Regulation) Bill being introduced as a Private Members’ Bill to the House of Lords. So what is the position, and will the UK look to move away from its principles-based approach towards legislation too?
The final text of the agreed European Union Artificial Intelligence Act is not yet available. However, some new elements are expected to include the following:
It is likely that the act will become law in the summer of 2024, and come into force progressively over the next two years.
In March 2023 the UK set out its ‘pro-innovation’ approach to AI regulation in the government’s AI white paper. As mentioned in an earlier update, the white paper suggested there would be no new legislation regulating the technology. Indications were that the government would take a principles-based approach, relying on existing legislation in areas like intellectual property as well as sector-based guidance from regulators, including the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and the Competition and Markets Authority.
Since then, there has been a rapid succession of developments. On 30 October, the US passed an executive order on ‘safe, secure and trustworthy artificial intelligence’. On 1 and 2 November, the UK held the AI Safety Summit, focusing on a responsible approach to seizing the opportunities of AI through an international effort to research, understand and mitigate the risks posed by AI technologies. In addition, the G7 announced agreement on the International Guiding Principles for Organisations Developing Advanced AI Systems, promoting the responsible and ethical use of AI.
The draft Artificial Intelligence (Regulation) Bill, has had its first reading in the House of Lords. As a Private Members’ Bill, which usually provides an opportunity for non-government ministers to put forward legislative proposals and respond to issues of public concern, this one is unusual as it is on an area of specific focus for the government. These bills are not often successful, but against the regulatory backdrop, it could be one to watch in case it could signal a departure from the principles-based approach, and prompt the government to consider legislation.
The bill aims to regulate AI technology through the introduction of a new AI regulatory body and the crystallisation of the white paper’s AI principles in legislative form. The provisions contained in the bill appear to go some way to implementing the G7’s 11 guiding principles, such as through effective identification and mitigation of risks associated with AI systems, fostering a culture of transparency with regard to the training, deployment and use of AI, and introducing effective measures to protect personal data and intellectual property rights. Some key provisions relate to:
However, speaking at the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan, has said that with such a fast moving technology, the UK government will wait until the time is right to legislate on AI, and that we should expect to hear more in the new year. One area of focus is whether or not the UK chooses to create a new central regulator for AI (which would mirror the Office of AI within the EU), or to instead upskill existing regulators to avoid duplication, recognising that AI is in every sector. The government will of course need to consider how to ensure that gaps in oversight don’t occur if it does not create a central AI regulator.
It will be necessary to ‘watch this space’ on the EU and UK fronts, both for the final text of the EU AI Act (and a date for implementation), as well as further responses from the UK government regarding AI regulation.
All businesses should in any case be getting themselves ready to assess the impact of the EU AI Act and the UK regulatory position on any use of AI within their business, and should: