As part of its strategy to become a leading tech power, the British government has launched a standards hub to improve AI governance. How much influence can it hope to exert?
A new initiative to shape international standards for Artificial Intelligence (AI) was launched last week by the UK government, as part of its strategy to become a global AI power.
The Alan Turing Institute, the London-based data science and AI organisation, has been selected to lead the pilot with support from the British Standards Institution and National Physical Laboratory.
“The new AI Standard Hub will create practical tools for businesses, bring the UK’s AI community together through a new online platform, and develop educational materials to help organisations develop and benefit from global standards,” the government announced, adding that the move puts the country at the “forefront” of a rapidly developing industry.
The pilot’s launch follows a number of key developments actioned as part of Whitehall’s AI Strategy, including the IPOs consultation on dealing with AI in relation to patents and copyright, and the launch of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation’s roadmap to an effective AI assurance ecosystem.
“On the face of it, the AI Standards Hub offers some substance to the government’s claims of Britain being a tech power and paves the way for it to play a leadership role in shaping AI at the global level,” London-based political risk analyst Mikhail Sebastian told TRT World.
“With a new raft of organisations and hubs being brought in to govern AI and other technologies, the UK is hoping to provide a response to the global tech behemoths.”
The move comes as new research finds that over 1.3 million UK businesses will use AI by 2040. UK businesses spent $86 billion on AI technology and AI-related labour in 2020, a number that is expected to reach more than $275 billion by 2040.
Research currently states that 15 percent of all UK businesses have adopted at least one AI technology, equating to 432,000 companies.
Minister for Tech and Digital Economy Chris Philip said the new standards hub “marks the first step in delivering our new National AI Strategy and will develop the tools needed so organisations and consumers can benefit from all the opportunities of AI.”
“We want the UK to lead the world in developing AI standards,” he added.
Philip unveiled the 10-year National AI Strategy at the AI Summit London last September, which aims to “harness AI to transform the economy and society while leading governance and standards to ensure everyone benefits.”
Challenges in a time of splintering tech
While the UK enjoys a leading role in key technology areas like FinTech and robotics, the tech companies with the greatest market power remain American and, increasingly, Chinese. Big Tech, whether its Google, Microsoft, Amazon or Facebook, are going to be front and centre in shaping AI standards.
That brings us to the biggest challenge the UK will face: how authoritative its guidance will be when it comes to global adoption.
“If you are aiming to foster and ultimately secure a quality of standard, the greater the adoption the higher the quality of standard,” says Sebastian. “The issue for the British government will be what happens when their AI standards diverge with those of the US or the EU? Which ones are global firms more likely to adopt?”
Complicating the picture is that global formations around tech governance are gradually moving in a more exclusive direction.
The new set of institutions that are emerging that do not involve the world, whether it’s the UK creating the D10 (an alliance of 10 democracies that would set the global rules for 5G) or the Global Partnership on AI, where 20 countries look to govern the use of AI and algorithms.
Amid this splintering regulatory backdrop, the important question related to AI governance is whose rules will be followed?
The US has its own ideas about standards and ethics, as does the EU.
So, will Brexit Britain be able to simultaneously formulate its own AI standards and influence others when tech giants have their own agenda?
“It’s unlikely,” Sebastian believes.
“But if they can forge consensus on technical standards and participate in high-level exchanges it at least gives the UK a prominent voice at the table – even if it isn’t the most influential.”