UK government launches new AI strategy

September 23, 2021

 The UK government has launched a ten year national strategy for AI.  It says that AI has “huge potential to rewrite the rules of entire industries, drive substantial economic growth and transform all areas of life”. It aims for the UK to be a research and innovation powerhouse, a hive of global talent and a progressive regulatory and business environment. 

The government has based the strategy on three assumptions about the coming decade:

  • The key drivers of progress, discovery and strategic advantage in AI are access to people, data, computers and finance – all of which face significant global competition;
  • AI will become mainstream in much of the economy and action will be required to ensure every sector and region of the UK benefits from this transition; and
  • The UK’s governance and regulatory regimes will need to keep pace with the fast-changing demands of AI, maximising growth and competition, driving excellence in innovation, and protecting the safety, security, choices and rights of individuals.

Therefore, the UK’s National AI Strategy aims to:

  • Invest and plan for the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem;
  • Support the transition to an AI-enabled economy, capturing the benefits of innovation in the UK, and aiming to ensure AI benefits all sectors and regions;
  • Ensure the UK gets the national and international governance of AI technologies right to encourage innovation, investment, and protect the public and the country’s “fundamental values”.

Data and intellectual property issues

The government has considered the particular issues of data and intellectual property in the strategy,  It points out that the AI Council and the Ada Lovelace Institute recently explored three legal mechanisms that could help facilitate responsible data stewardship: data trusts, data cooperatives and corporate and contractual mechanisms. The Data: A new direction consultation asks what role the government should have in enabling and engendering confidence in responsible data intermediary activity. The government is also exploring how privacy-enhancing technologies could remove barriers to data sharing by more effectively managing the risks associated with sharing commercially sensitive and personal data. It is also looking to support action to mitigate the effects of quality issues and underrepresentation in AI systems. Subject to the outcomes of the data consultation, the government will more explicitly permit the collection and processing of sensitive and protected characteristics data to monitor and mitigate bias in AI systems.

The government also recognises that AI researchers and developers need the right support to commercialise their IP, and to help them to understand and identify their intellectual assets, providing them with the skills to protect, exploit and enforce their rights to improve their chances of survival and growth. It plans a consultation on copyright areas of computer-generated works and text and data mining, and on patents for AI-devised inventions, which will be launched before the end of 2021.

Governance framework for AI

The government wants to establish an AI governance framework that addresses the unique challenges and opportunities of AI, while being flexible, proportionate and without creating unnecessary burdens.  It will concentrate on a sector-focused approach. The key aspects are:

  • Enabling AI products and services to be trustworthy, by supporting the development of an ecosystem of AI assurance tools and services to provide meaningful information about AI systems to users and regulators;
  • Growing the UK’s contribution to the development of global AI technical standards, to translate UK R&D for trustworthy AI into robust, technical specifications and processes that can support the AI governance model, ensure global interoperability and minimise the costs of regulatory compliance;
  • Building regulators’ capacities to use and assess AI, ensuring that they can deliver on their responsibilities as new AI-based products and services come to market;
  • Setting an example in the safe and ethical deployment of AI, with the government leading by example (such as working with the Alan Turing institute to update the guidance on AI for the public sector); and
  • Working with partners around the world to promote international agreements and standards that aim to deliver prosperity and security, and promote innovation that harnesses the benefits of AI. Significantly, the Strategy states that the government plans to engage in the EU’s Horizon programme.