Ministers ask biggest regulators to set out ‘strategic approach to AI’

ICO, CMA, Bank of England, Ofgem and nine more have been asked for detail on anticipated impact of AI on their work, how they are preparing, and current capability levels

Ministers have given 13 of the UK’s biggest and most significant regulators three months to provide details of their organisation’s “strategic approach to AI” – including insights on how it will impact their work, preparations to date, and an assessment of any skills gaps.

Each of the watchdogs was written to at the start of this month by Michelle Donelan, secretary of state for science, innovation and technology.

The letters asked the regulatory bodies to provide an overview of “how AI applies within the scope of their regulatory responsibilities”, as well as details of any “steps they are already taking to adopt the AI principles” outlined in the government white paper published last year.

That policy document outlined plans for a “pro-innovation approach to AI regulation” and, following the completion of a consultation on its proposals, government recently revealed plans to invest £100m of public money in regulation and research in the field of artificial intelligence.

This included a £10m fund for watchdogs to increase their AI expertise, and ministers’ letter to regulators asked for detail on the “current capability to address AI risks within their regulatory remit – and how this compares with their assessment of the capabilities they need”. The 13 agencies are also requested to provide details of any AI-related guidance they have issued to date to organisations and sectors in their scope.

The ministerial missive also asks for information on any ongoing work to “understand, assess and manage the current and emerging risks posed by AI”, and a “forward look of their plans and activities over the coming 12 months, [which] should include the actions they are taking to address any capability gaps identified above, and could also include – but need not be limited to – risk-assessment work they plan to undertake, tools and/or guidance they are preparing, planned stakeholder-engagement activity, and international engagement, [and] it would be useful to understand how they may prioritise their organisation’s resources to support the work within this forward look”.

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The regulators to which the letters were sent are: the Information Commissioner’s Office; the Financial Conduct Authority; the Bank of England; the Competition and Markets Authority; the Equality and Human Rights Commission; the Office of Communications; the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency; the Office for Nuclear Regulation; the Health and Safety Executive; the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills; the Office for Qualifications and Examinations Regulation; the Legal Services Board; and the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets.

As well as Donelan, many of the communiqués were also undersigned by the relevant minister to the market served by the regulator in question – including health secretary Victoria Atkins, and education secretary Gillian Keegan.

The ministers claimed that the approach to AI regulation pursued by government thus far has been “broadly welcomed by stakeholders across industry, academia and civil society”.

“One of the key areas of feedback, however, was the need to ensure that regulators were considering the risks and opportunities of AI within their remits,” the letter added. “Stakeholders wanted more detail on how the principles-based framework would be interpreted and applied by regulators to ensure that industry could prepare, government could coordinate, and civil society could scrutinise for gaps effectively. As the use of AI becomes more widespread across the economy, transparency regarding the steps regulators are taking to understand both the opportunities and the risks this creates, and the actions they are taking in response, would be valuable.”

The regulators have been asked to respond to ministers’ request for information – and publish the details online – by 30 April.

Sam Trendall

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