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Tech secretary says ‘traditional models’ not enough to regulate AI

Tech secretary
Secretary of State for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Chloe Smith at Global Technology Forum in Paris

The UK tech secretary said the government must avoid “traditional governance models” and work with businesses to regulate emerging technologies like AI.

Speaking at the Global Technology Forum at the OECD in Paris, Secretary of State for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology Chloe Smith pointed to the great opportunity offered by emerging technologies, in particular, AI, VR, and synthetic bioengineering.

“We know that technology and scientific discovery are key to realising our future prosperity and wellbeing,” said Smith, who is providing maternity cover for Tech Secretary Michelle Donelan.

“In fact, when you take three of our biggest global challenges – food, fuel, and healthcare – it’s clear that those opportunities are already here.”

Smith used the examples of bioengineering and AI in the agriculture and healthcare sector to show how the UK and other developed nations can solve global issues by embracing new tech.

The tech secretary then warned of the many risks posed by the very same technologies.

“We must do all we can to seize these opportunities. But, of course, they come with risks, too,” she said.

“We know that there are real and legitimate concerns about how to ensure that the transformative power of tech is harnessed safely and responsibly.”

Tech risks

Smith said that VR, for example, could expose users to new forms of social media “hate or intolerance”, that the data generative AI is trained on is “overwhelmingly created by people in wealthy, developed countries, making these powerful tools less relevant to those in poorer parts of the world”, and that synthetic biology could be “used to create new pathogens” and “bioweapons”.

Smith called for regulation to be a priority but warned that “as governments, we know we can’t only rely on traditional governance models to do this”.

The DSIT boss said: “These are powerful new questions, and old answers just won’t do. We need to look to innovation, creativity and flexibility. I think we need to work with business to grow economies.

“And the Global Forum is critical in this endeavour… in its breaking down of barriers between communities – bringing together, industry, civil society, academia and policymakers – to gain a better understanding of the challenges we face, and how to overcome them.”

The UK government is keen to develop regulation of AI quickly to act as an early adopter and leader of the sector. In March, DSIT published its first AI regulatory white paper.

The UK competition regulator recently published its own report responding to the white paper with its own concerns.