Artificial intelligence concept

UK must regulate AI or risk falling behind, MPs warn

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Rishi Sunak’s government has been urged to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) regulation or risk having to follow the lead of the US and EU.

The UK’s plan to become a leader on AI technologies could be curtailed by the legislative advances of other nations, according to ministers on the Commons Science, Innovation and Technology Select Committee.

The MPs have urged Sunak to introduce the legislation on the King’s Speech, scheduled for 7 November. Otherwise the earliest legislation could become law would be 2025, and then it would risk being overshadowed by international bills such as the EU’s AI Act, which would “become the de facto standard and be hard to displace”.

The MP’s report highlighted the governments white paper published in March, which set out five AI guiding principles: safety, transparency, fairness, accountability and the ability of newcomers to challenge established players in AI. However, the document stated there was no intention to introduce new legislation to govern AI specifically. 

The committee disagreed. 

“The AI white paper should be welcomed as an initial effort to engage with this complex task, but its proposed approach is already risking falling behind the pace of development of AI,” the committee said. “This threat is made more acute by the efforts of other jurisdictions, principally the EU and the US, to set international standards.”

The report also included a list of the “12 biggest risks of artificial intelligence”: bias, privacy, misrepresentation, access to data, access to compute, black box challenges, open source challenges, copyright, liability, employment, international coordination and existential concerns. 

Any attempts at legislating AI would need to overcome these issues, the report warned, if it is to position the UK “as an AI governance leader”.

“If the government’s ambitions are to be realised and its approach is to go beyond talks, it may well need to move with greater urgency in enacting the legislative powers it says will be needed,” said committee chair Greg Clark. 

The warning follows the UK’s announcement that the country will host the first international AI summit. The location chosen for the event was Bletchley Park, the former home of Second World War codebreakers.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak has been pushing for a leadership position in the global effort to regulate AI tools. During a visit to the US last month, Sunak claimed the UK was the “natural place” to lead the conversation on AI.

A government spokesperson said the potential of AI should be harnessed “safely and responsibly” and the forthcoming AI summit would address the threat of risks and harms from the technology. The spokesperson added that the white paper sets out a “proportionate and adaptable approach to regulation in the UK”.

Earlier this summer, the Centre for AI Safety (CAIS) stated that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war”.

The AI sector already contributes £3.7bn to the UK economy and employs 50,000 people across the country, according to official figures. 

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