The United Kingdom (UK) continues to be Europe’s tech hub—with over 85,000 startups and 131 tech unicorns, and as the first European country whose tech sector has a $1 trillion market value—but its government refuses to become complacent. Based on recommendations from chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government has released detailed proposals for how the UK can implement its pro-innovation regulation of digital technologies. This regulatory strategy is intended to boost the use of data and emerging technologies in business and government.
Sir Vallance’s recommended approach for the UK government has three prongs:
- Focus on regulatory flexibility for emerging technologies to ensure the UK is future-focused and thinking ahead of other global tech markets.
- Provide experiential learning opportunities through sandboxes or test beds to ensure the UK and its regulators can scale up and grow with new technologies.
- Seek international harmonization to ensure that companies in the UK can thrive in other markets.
This approach will apply to emerging technologies spanning from artificial intelligence (AI) and data to drones and space technologies, as well as future technologies that are undiscovered or in the nascent stages of development. By focusing on adopting and regulating emerging technologies when necessary, the UK government’s strategy signals its commitment to not stifling innovation by regulating too quickly and without proper understanding of the issues facing new innovations. In its pro-innovation recommendations, the government even urges that its strategy include continued engagement “with industry on issues around safety, risk[,] and benefits of innovation” as regulators positively shape tech regulation.
This three-pronged approach is useful for a few reasons. First, the approach’s focus on regulatory flexibility will make the UK digital market more enticing to disruptive start-ups looking for friendly tech markets where they can scale up and work with regulators. Second, the use of regulatory sandboxes will allow the UK government and regulators to learn alongside the tech industry to promote emerging technology adoption, which will allow them to account for future innovation and technology developments. And finally, the focus on international harmonization will reduce barriers for technologies that grow in the UK as they look to become multinational companies and enter other markets.
The government’s detailed proposals also provide robust and targeted recommended actions that can help today’s digital technology issues, including:
- Creating a multi-regulator AI sandbox that will allow innovators to work with regulators, such as the Information Commissioner’s Office, Ofcom, and others in the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum, on best practices and regulatory frameworks that help get AI products safely to market.
- Providing greater industry access to public sector data for research, innovation, and stronger data-driven decision-making to unlock more value from this data.
- Providing guidance explaining how UK intellectual property law will interact with generative AI to address copyright concerns without banning or stifling the benefits of generative AI.
- Empowering the Information Commissioner’s Office to clarify when AI services can reuse personal information to improve their models.
The UK’s new, forward-looking, and experimental approach to regulating digital technology aims to make the nation the world’s technology leader and ensure it is ready for emerging innovations in the digital economy. Its success will be critical in further undoing some—but not all—of the pre-Brexit damage the EU’s heavy tech regulation caused. Other countries and governments would be well-advised to take inspiration from the UK’s planned strategy and its welcome focus on digital transformation and regulatory experimentation.