When is a race not a race?

This article from Reuters has the catchy title “Governments Race to Regulate AI Tools”. Naturally, it caught our attention, not least because to our knowledge most jurisdictions are being slow to regulate so is this really a race?

It has long been true that governments and regulators struggle to keep up with rapidly evolving technology. We would not expect them to pay top-end salaries to match what tech giants can afford so their access to experts with the latest information, and forward view, on tech developments is limited. Added to that, many governments want to capture the upside to their economies of emerging technology, not to mention the prestige of institutes being created in their countries, to state their position as leaders in the world.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing at an unprecedented pace, and governments from Australia to the United States are trying to balance economic advantage with their emerging positions on the ethical, privacy and security concerns AI can bring. But to say politicians are racing to legislate overstates the position.

The UK: Collaborative Approach

In the UK four regulators have combined to form the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum. These are the Competition and Markets Authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Office of Communications and the Financial Conduct Authority. They have been charged with coming up with regulations for their own areas of control, as well as collaborating to ensure consistency. Institutions like the Alan Turing Institute are supporting their outreach to understand AI. The UK is in flux between its earlier White Paper on AI regulation, which advocated a light touch, pro-innovation approach, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s desire to place the UK at the centre of global AI safety initiatives. The finding that only 7% of Conservative MPs were confident that regulators could successfully implement rules on AI suggests there is no race to regulate here – the race course isn’t even decided yet.

China: Swift Measures

China has set the scene by requiring AI to conform to socially desirable outcomes. From 31 August AI service providers have to undergo security assessments before releasing mass-market AI products with a core of tech giants having released AI chatbots following government approvals. China’s approach of banning everything until regulation was in place may have seemed draconian to free market thinkers, but their speed in regulating is allowing them to have control over AI developments with only a few months’ delay.

United States: Congressional Hearings and Voluntary Commitments

At the federal level, the US is so far moving slowly, with Congressional hearings and Senator Chuck Schumer holding closed-door sessions with big tech leaders. President Joe Biden’s voluntary commitments governing AI have been signed by several firms. Whilst the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been widely praised for publishing its AI Risk Management Framework, like the UK, the US as a whole is certainly not racing to regulate. On the other different states are moving faster, with 85 AI-related Bills (as of the start of August) either being enacted this year or under discussion.

European Union: Complex Decisions

The European Union is navigating complex decisions regarding AI regulations. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called for a global panel to assess the risks and benefits of AI, similar to the IPCC panel for climate change. Lawmakers have made changes to the EU’s AI Act, with the main point of contention being facial recognition and biometric surveillance. Striking a balance between individual privacy and national security remains challenging but the EU’s rules are likely to set a standard that many around the world use as a benchmark.

Australia: Child Protection and Deepfakes

Australia is taking proactive steps to regulate AI. The country’s internet regulator is planning regulations that require search engines to draft new codes preventing the sharing of child sexual abuse material created by AI and the production of deepfake versions of this material. This move reflects other jurisdictions that have been increasingly concerned about regulating online harms without the ability to declare internet platforms as publishers who are required to vet and control the material uploaded to the platform.

United Nations: A Global Perspective

The U.N. Security Council discussed AI’s impact on global peace and security. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed the creation of an AI watchdog and a high-level AI advisory body to review governance arrangements. The UN is taking a global approach to AI governance. UN vehicles like the ITU (with its reputation for success in harmonising global regulations on telecommunications) ought to have a significant role to play here.

G7: Seeking Global Governance

G7 nations have acknowledged the need for governance of AI and immersive technologies. They are advocating for “risk-based” regulation and are expected to report results by the end of 2023. This cooperative approach demonstrates the recognition that AI regulation requires a global perspective.

France: Privacy and Surveillance

France’s approach highlights the tension between privacy and security concerns when regulating AI. On one hand, their privacy watchdog is investigating potential breaches involving ChatGPT, whilst on the other hand, they have approved the use of AI video surveillance for the 2024 Paris Olympics, despite civil rights concerns.

The patchwork of approaches to AI regulation across different jurisdictions highlights the tension between the desire to capture economic opportunity and the responsibility to control harms. Whilst some countries are taking swift action, others are adopting a more cautious and collaborative approach. Striking the right balance between fostering innovation and protecting rights and security remains the central challenge in the evolving landscape of AI regulation. As AI continues to advance, it is essential that governments proceed with up-to-date knowledge and thorough consideration to ensure the responsible and ethical use of this powerful technology.

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