Introducing the UK’s AI Hub
On 12 January 2022, the UK Government and the Office for Artificial Intelligence (OAI) announced the launch of the UK’s new AI Standards Hub pilot. The Hub aims to increase the UK’s engagement in the shaping of global AI technical standards, while simultaneously boosting investment and employment in the post-Brexit UK.
The initiative is led by The Alan Turing Institute, the national institute for data science and AI. The institute will be supported by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and the British Standards Institution (BSI), whose expertise in standard development will help build reliable digital technology standards and the necessary quality infrastructure to provide confidence in AI technology.
As new research shows, by 2040 it is expected that 1.3m UK businesses will be using AI – a significant increase from the 432,000 noted in 2020. Thus, the setting of international AI standards will play a vital role in the effective governance of such technology by helping tackle the security, ethical, and legal concerns currently surrounding it, which pose an obstacle to its wider adoption. This will help unlock the economic potential of AI technology while also strengthening society’s trust in it.
At this point in time, the AI Standards Hub’s activities are yet to be specified. They are to be determined through a series of roundtables organised by the Alan Turing Institute in conjunction with a wide range of organisations that will take place prior to the pilot’s launch.
Becoming an AI superpower?
The pilot marks a key step in delivering the UK’s new National AI Strategy, launched in September 2021. This Strategy anticipates that AI will significantly impact businesses in all sectors over the next decade. Thus, it sets out a ten-year plan to strengthen the country’s position as a global science and AI superpower. The plan is divided into three key pillars:
Pillar 1: Investing in the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem
Pillar 2: Ensuring AI benefits all sectors and regions
Pillar 3: Governing AI effectively
The Strategy also sets out a roadmap, listing the actions the UK Government will take to achieve its aims under each pillar over the course of more than 12 months following the Strategy’s release.
The creation of the AI Standards Hub is a key element of Pillar 3, which aims to govern AI technology effectively by creating pro-innovation and business-friendly rules that encourage investment while protecting the public’s interests and the country’s fundamental values.
The Pilot phase
In its pilot phase, the Hub will focus on:
- Growing UK engagement to develop global AI standards by bringing together information about technical standards and development initiatives in an accessible, user-friendly and inclusive way.
- Bringing the AI community together through workshops, events and a new online platform to encourage more coordinated engagement in the development of standards around the world.
- Creating tools and guidance for education, training and professional development to help businesses and other organisations engage with creating AI technical standards and collaborate globally to develop these standards.
- Exploring international collaboration with similar initiatives to ensure the development of technical standards are shaped by a wide range of AI experts, in line with shared values.
The Role of BigTech
While the AI Standards Hub may help the UK secure a prominent position in the development of global AI standards, how influential this role will be is likely to depend on whether the Hub can attract foreign companies, organisations and governments to not only participate in its discussions but also decide to adopt its standards. This might prove difficult as different countries worldwide have already begun to form their own ideas on AI regulation, with the EU having already produced legislation on the matter in the form of the EU AI Act.
Furthermore, while the UK ranks first in Europe and third globally in developing AI technologies, it significantly lags behind the top two countries, the USA and China. The companies with the most dominant market positions, such as GAFAM, are either American or, increasingly, Chinese. Such companies are likely to play an important role in the shaping of global AI standards, which is why their input might prove crucial in enabling the Hub’s standards to be adopted at a global level.
That being said, the benefit for businesses of having regulatory interoperability between regimes applicable to AI across the major markets is apparent. If an exclusionary approach to AI regulation develops, companies operating on an international scale (as most digital businesses do) may find it hard to navigate and ensure their compliance with different national regulations, especially if they become increasingly numerous and divergent.
A step in the right direction
By encouraging the development of global AI technical standards, the AI Standards Hub presents a positive trend towards achieving global regulatory interoperability, which has the potential to reduce the costs of regulatory compliance. Additionally, while it may not position the UK as the most influential state in the setting of global AI standards, if it manages to spark a global discussion on the topic, it will give the country a prominent voice in the matter. At the very least, the Hub’s activity will benefit UK-based businesses, especially smaller ones that operate primarily in the UK market, as it will provide clarity on the regulatory stance on the use of AI technology, the lack of which has previously proven to be an obstacle to its implementation by companies.