Diverging Paths: The UK approach to AI regulation in contrast with the EU

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already delivering far-reaching societal benefits, ranging from assisting in the early diagnosis of certain types of cancer to fighting disinformation published online.

Whilst AI continues to saturate an ever-increasing number of sectors, the importance of ensuring that a sufficient legal framework surrounding its implementation and regulation is in place is becoming even more crucial.

Both England and Wales and the European Union (EU) have identified that there is a necessity to address both the opportunities and challenges presented by AI. Whilst the EU has been building a case for regulation through the proposed ‘EU AI Act’ for a number of years, the UK has recently published a white paper setting out an alternative “pro-innovation” approach towards their AI regulations.

The UK White Paper

The white paper indicates that England and Wales intend to embrace a more industry-friendly, innovation-driven approach to AI, which promotes AI development and implementation whilst relying on existing legal principles and frameworks to address any risks that could arise. The legal system in England and Wales largely relies on common law principles, which can allow for more flexible adaption to technological advancements. As such, there is a greater emphasis on self-regulation within the industry, where AI developers and companies are encouraged to voluntarily follow ethical guidelines and best practices.

In contrast, the EU plans to take a much more robust and regulatory-driven approach to AI. The EU’s strategy looks to streamline AI-related laws across each of the member states and directly address all ethical, legal and societal implications of AI use. This is crystallised within the EU’s AI Act, which comprehensively governs the development, deployment and use of AI systems across the EU. Within this act, three categories of AI systems are introduced: unacceptable, high risk and limited risk. The high-risk AI systems will be stringently regulated with requirements and oversight. As part of the act, a supervisory authority – the European Artificial Intelligence Board is being introduced to oversee the implementation and enforcement of the EU AI regulations, which should ensure consistency across all of the EU member states.

Possible EU-UK Divergence

The EU approach appears to place a strong emphasis on the protection of the consumer with the aim of safeguarding them from systems which may have adverse effects, information that may be considered misleading, or that could infringe on the consumer’s rights and privacy. In divergence, the UK appears to emphasise innovation and trusting the owners of the AI systems to self-regulate and adapt existing laws to address any AI concerns.

As AI continues to develop, the approaches of the UK and EU legal systems will be vital in controlling the path in which AI continues to influence global day-to-day life in the future. Unlike data protection regulation, where the post-Brexit UK has followed the EU GDPR, which has eased the burden on businesses by avoiding two diverging regulatory tracks, it seems likely at the moment that the UK will adopt a fundamentally different approach to AI regulation than the EU. What remains to be seen is how the different approaches will impact the owners of AI systems that operate in both areas.

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