UK Sets Course to Woo Big Tech

In April, the U.K. government announced a new plan to make the U.K. a global crypto hub with, among other things, a friendly regulatory environment. Now the government is prepared to unveil a set of new policies that will seek to lure the tech sector, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing to digital health. 

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is due to publish a digital strategy that will put together many of the government’s existing tech policies into one document, according to the Financial Times. The announcement could come during the London’s Tech Week, which starts on June 13 in an attempt to boost Britain’s digital economy.  

The U.K. government is expected to host a dinner with tech bosses and investors to encourage investment in the U.K. 

The strategy is expected to say that the U.K. needs to strengthen its position as a global science and tech superpower, highlighting areas including AI, quantum computing and semiconductors, the FT reported. One area of particular importance is digital health and the use of data by the National Health System (NHS). Health Secretary Sajid Javid is keen to use data to identify where disparities exist and allocate resources on this basis. 

The U.K. government has been working for years on a national strategic plan to become an AI “superpower.” In 2021, the government published a report setting out its plan. This strategy included the creation of a National AI research and innovation program, an AI Standards Hub (to establish or collaborate in the development of international standards) and the modification of existing laws to include AI. According to this plan, the government is due to publish late this year an AI white paper, a prerequisite step to the development of a law. 

Additionally, the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF), a group of four U.K. regulators, may have started to help in the design of this AI framework. One unique feature of this joint regulator is that it is planning to use the capabilities and powers of each individual member, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Information Commissioners’ Office (IC) and the telecom regulator (Ofcom), to provide a common response to stakeholders — in other words, one unified message from regulators. This may be particularly useful for businesses as more and more regulators are publishing guidance with recommendations without realizing the impact that some actions may have in other regulators’ areas. 

The DRCF launched a consultation a few months ago seeking input from the public on how to audit algorithms. The regulators propose six different blueprints with different levels of regulatory intervention, from clarifying how external audits should be conducted to providing guidance, assisting standard-setting authorities to convert regulatory requirements into testable criteria for audit, or accrediting organizations to carry out audits. The consultation will remain open until tomorrow, June 8, 2022. 

The UK government is also trying to find the right balance with proposed legislation to provide opportunities to big and small tech players as well as boosting the country’s productivity. In this regard, the government pulled out from the Queen’s speech in May a bill that would have created a new regulator with powers to determine what the Big Tech firms could and couldn’t do. The bill was finally included as a draft, but it is not expected to be passed during this parliamentary session. According to the U.K. ministers, this was a decision that would foster innovation. “Compared to other emerging international regulatory regimes, we are building a more flexible and targeted regime that can better support innovation,” the ministers said in a statement. 

Read more: UK Tech Regulator Warns of High Cost of Internet Bill Compliance for Small Business