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UK government to prepare regulators for AI as it eyes ‘agile’ approach

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The British government will spend more than £100m building artificial intelligence (AI) research hubs and preparing regulators as it plans an “agile” approach to controlling the burgeoning technology.

The government has set out its approach to regulating the surging technology in its highly anticipated response to a consultation on AI regulation published last March.

It wants to introduce “targeted, binding requirements” for the most advanced AI systems, known as foundation models.

The government will allocate £90m to the establishment of cutting-edge AI research hubs nationwide, responsible for innovation across sectors including healthcare, chemistry, and mathematics.

A further £19m will be directed towards 21 projects dedicated to developing safe and trustworthy AI tools while £10m will go towards upskilling regulatory bodies such as Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

This aims to equip regulators with the necessary expertise to deal with the potential harms that AI could throw up. Regulators have until the end of April to publish their current plans in response to AI risks and opportunities.

As outlined in the AI white paper, the government is choosing to leverage existing regulators over establishing a central regulatory authority dedicated solely to AI. Ministers have argued this is a more agile approach to the issue.

Technology secretary Michelle Donelan said: “By taking an agile, sector-specific approach, we have begun to grip the risks immediately, which in turn is paving the way for the UK to become one of the first countries in the world to reap the benefits of AI safely.”

But the government said it wants to avoid “quick-fix” regulations. So, any new measures will only be implemented if current legal measures and voluntary commitments by tech companies show to be inadequate and following thorough engagement with experts.

Questions the government intends to work on include at what stage regulators should intervene, whether new regulatory powers are needed and how to avoid creating barriers for start ups and scale ups.

Adam Leon Smith, of BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT and an AI expert said: “The UK is relying on its existing legal framework to regulate AI in areas that affect a lot of people, like employment. Even with ‘old-fashioned’ AI, we need to balance the risks with the opportunities.

“It is, therefore, right that the government moves to fund and empower those existing regulators with the tools they need to do their job.”

Microsoft, Google Deepmind, and Amazon all welcomed the government’s plans for AI regulation.

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