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The UK has said it will refrain from regulating the British artificial intelligence sector, even as the EU, US and China push forward with new measures.
The UK’s first minister for AI and intellectual property, Viscount Jonathan Camrose, said at a Financial Times conference on Thursday that there would be no UK law on AI “in the short term” because the government was concerned that heavy-handed regulation could curb industry growth.
The announcement comes as executives and policymakers around the world debate how to regulate the emerging technology, which holds the promise of transforming many industries and driven the rise in large tech company valuations over the past year.
The EU has led the field, with its legislation on AI regulation expected to come into force before the end of this year.
Beijing is also implementing measures to regulate the industry, while US President Joe Biden recently issued an executive order to promote “responsible innovation”.
“I would never criticise any other nation’s act on this,” said Camrose. “But there is always a risk of premature regulation.”
In rushing to introduce industry controls, “you are not actually making anybody as safe as it sounds”, he said. “You are stifling innovation, and innovation is a very very important part of the AI equation”.
In a separate statement published on Thursday, the government confirmed that it did not intend to legislate the domestic AI sector in the immediate future.
“As we have done throughout, we will develop our approach in close consultation with industry and civil society, maintaining a pro-innovation approach,” it said.
In a white paper published in March, officials put forward a proposal to split responsibility for AI supervision between exiting bodies — including those for human rights, health and safety, and competition — instead of establishing a bespoke regulator.
Critics of the government’s hands-off approach have questioned whether an under-regulated AI sector would deter investors that seek transparency and security.
“The UK had an ambition of becoming an international standard-setter in AI governance,” said Greg Clark, chair of the House of Commons science, innovation and technology select committee. “But without legislation [ . . . ] to give expression to its preferred regulator-led approach, it will most likely fall behind both the US and the EU.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosted a two-day summit earlier this month attended by tech sector leaders including X owner Elon Musk and Open AI chief executive Sam Altman in a drive to lead the global move towards greater scrutiny and security in the AI sector.
Additional reporting by Cristina Criddle and Madhumita Murgia.