Government’s plan to regulate AI is insufficient, says Labour’s Darren Jones

Jones AI Darren Jones, Labour MP for Bristol North West. Image credit: darren-jones.co.uk

The government’s plan to govern AI technologies in the UK is insufficient due to its over-reliance on unequipped regulators, according to Labour MP Darren Jones.

In an interview with UKTN, Jones, who chairs the Business and Trade Committee, said he disagreed with the prime minister’s optimism that the AI regulatory white paper – published in March – would achieve the government’s ambition of leading AI safety globally.

“His [Rishi Sunak’s] view is that the AI white paper as it is currently drafted is sufficient, but I don’t think that’s good enough,” Jones said.

The MP for Bristol North West said the prime minister’s plan to entrust the governance of AI to existing regulatory bodies would be ineffective, as it expects these organisations to take on an unmanageable workload.

“Most of these regulators don’t have the capacity to do that work. And there’s no formal coordination between them,” said Jones.

Those bodies include the Health and Safety Executive, Equality and Human Rights Commission and Competition and Markets Authority.

Jones said that it may not be necessary to establish an entirely new regulator to manage AI. However, he encouraged a “new regulatory design” that would allow a greater “level of AI coordination” between “sufficiently resourced” regulators.

Balancing risk and innovation

While he has been critical of Sunak’s plan to regulate AI, Jones told UKTN that the country still has the opportunity to develop a regime that is far more supportive of innovation than the approach taken in Europe through the EU AI Act.

Jones said he found the EU’s approach “admirable” in that it seeks to “anticipate future risks” and “prevent them from happening”. However, he stated he was “not convinced that any legislator is really able to understand the future risks” of AI and what mitigations would be required to effectively resolve them.

“The problem that they will create is that what they’ve ended up having to do is ban certain things, for example, facial recognition technology,” Jones explained.

According to Jones, trigger-happy regulators banning new technologies, or introducing overbearing compliance requirements to mitigate future risks, will hurt innovation in those markets and discourage firms from doing business within those regulatory jurisdictions.

Lawmakers in the UK have previously admitted that the rapidly changing technology presents a serious challenge due to its complexity.

“I think we have an opportunity there to lead what good quality AI regulation would look like that gets it right between innovation and risk assessments,” Jones said.

AI job impact

One of the top concerns around the rapid advances in AI is the potential loss of jobs in vulnerable sectors.

Jones told UKTN that he believes AI will likely “improve productivity” and support the world of work in the long term. However, there is a “real risk” in the short term of people being made redundant, he said.

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, told delegates at London Tech Week that AI would take some jobs but the focus should be on retraining and reskilling workers.

Jones said: “The state has to get itself into a position where it can help people with that at the right speed.”

The MP revealed he had played around with generative AI tools within his work and that while they hold promise, he is conscious of “hallucination and errors”.

Jones, who was elected in 2017, comes from a background as a technology-focused lawyer for the law firm Womble Bond Dickinson and in-house counsel for BT.

He was appointed chair of the House of Commons Business and Trade Select Committee in 2020, succeeding the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves.

Jones has since made a name for himself for his direct style of questioning when grilling business leaders called before the committee, including Amazon over its treatment of workers.

When asked by UKTN if he was interested in a cabinet position within the science and tech department should Labour win the next election, the 36-year-old backbencher said he’d be “delighted to be a minister in a Labour government” and that if “Keir were to ask me to do a job, I’d probably say yes”.