UK Spring Budget 2023: Ambitious AI Focus Raises Data Privacy and Deregulation Concerns

Government's drive towards AI development leads to questions over regulation and protection of privacy and intellectual property

UK Government Emphasises AI Development

The UK Spring Budget 2023 brings to light the government’s strong focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the desire to compete in the development of large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT. In an effort to “maximise our potential in AI” the budget announces a £900 million investment in an exascale supercomputer and AI Research Resource. Additionally, it introduces an annual £1 million prize for the best scientific progress in AI.

Limited Emphasis on Other Technologies

While AI takes centre stage, the budget gives limited attention to other technological developments such as quantum computing, the metaverse, Web 3.0, blockchain, smart contracts, and cryptocurrencies. In the newly formed Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, science appears to be the junior partner, often only mentioned as an application area of AI.

Deregulation Concerns

A major concern arising from the budget is the drive towards deregulation in the background. Sir Patrick Vallance’s recommendations on the regulation of emerging digital technologies present a worrying picture, with existing regulation potentially preventing innovation and commercial exploitation of AI in the UK.

The government’s eagerness to embrace AI and capitalise on its potential benefits is admirable. However, it is crucial that we proceed with caution and consider the possible risks to data privacy and intellectual property rights,

Eerke Boiten, Professor of Cybersecurity at De Montfort University

However, some experts contend that a flexible approach to regulation is not a responsible approach to AI regulation. In his article for The Conversation, Boiten remarks, “These recommendations – according to a separate review published (together with the government response) on the same day as the budget – present a worrying picture of deregulation for the sake of innovation.”

Data Privacy and Intellectual Property Rights

Unlike the EU, the UK does not have specific regulations for AI, and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has barely tested and hardly enforced existing data protection legislation such as (UK) GDPR, especially in the context of AI. The ICO was given a “duty to consider the desirability to promote economic growth” in 2017, which some believe has undermined its independence as a data protection regulator.

Vallance’s recommendations also include forcing rights holders to offer “a reasonable licence” for AI firms to use copyrighted data, which may create conflicts with the UK’s world-leading creative industries that aim to protect their intellectual property. Professor Boiten highlights the dilemma, stating, “These companies will want to protect their intellectual property, and may not want to hand some of it over to other companies.”

Data Sharing Across the Public Sector

The budget encourages data sharing and linkage across the public sector, including making it “easier for private sector firms to access this information safely.” While the term “safely” is expanded to include privacy-enhancing techniques and safe data platforms such as that of the Office for National Statistics, the overall approach to regulation raises concerns.

Professor Boiten argues, “Considering the speed that AI is developing right now, I do not believe this to be a responsible approach to its regulation.”

The UK government’s ambitious focus on AI in the Spring Budget 2023 raises questions over regulation, protection of privacy, and intellectual property. As AI development accelerates, striking a balance between innovation and responsible regulation will be crucial in the years to come, especially as tech companies are already taking steps which do not prioritise user privacy.

Balancing Innovation and Responsibility

As the UK government forges ahead with its ambitious AI development plans, it is important to consider the potential consequences of deregulation and the lack of specific AI regulations. While fostering innovation and growth is essential for the country’s progress, it should not come at the expense of individual privacy and the protection of intellectual property rights.

Professor Boiten emphasises the need for a more measured approach, stating, “While advancing ‘UK sovereign capability’ in AI is a laudable objective, the push for deregulation and data sharing should be carefully evaluated to ensure the protection of citizens’ privacy and the interests of the creative industries.”

The Importance of Public Debate

Given the potential impacts of AI on society, it is crucial to involve the public in discussions about AI regulation and development. Governments can ensure that the needs and concerns of citizens are taken into account as AI technologies continue to advance by fostering an open and transparent debate.

While the UK government’s ambitious AI plans may signal its commitment to becoming a global leader in this rapidly evolving field, the push for deregulation and a more flexible approach to AI regulation raises serious concerns. A disregard for privacy and intellectual property rights, could potentially result in unintended consequences and undermining public trust in AI technology.

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