Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. The Staggers
31 May 2023

Why Rishi Sunak is wary of regulating AI

The government is taking a “pro-innovation” approach.

By Freddie Hayward

We could all die. I don’t just mean at the end of our lives. I mean as a species. That’s the threat posed by artificial intelligence, according to more than 350 scientists and industry leaders who have written a joint statement. It reads, in full: “Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

It’s at times like these that people turn to their government for some reassurance. Surely, they’ve got it covered?

The British government is keenly light touch. In March it said it would pursue a “pro-innovation” approach to regulation. In practice, this means it’s cautious about putting industry rules on a statutory footing – ie, giving it the force of law – or setting up a new regulator because of fears they would be stifling. Instead, the government will ask pre-existing regulators such as the Health and Safety Executive and the Equality and Human Rights Commission to incorporate AI regulation into their remits. One concern is this approach won’t give regulators the required power to curtail the dangers of AI.

[See also: We are finally living in the age of AI. What took so long?]

Another is that the UK isn’t keeping up with the US and the EU. The Europeans are in the final stages of an AI Act, which is being celebrated as the most comprehensive set of regulations to date. The government would say tighter regulation in the EU is an opportunity for the UK to attract AI businesses. But the risk is that the size of the EU market means it could be cheaper for companies to comply with their rules everywhere rather than accept different, fewer rules in the UK – neutering Britain’s competitive advantage. Even that depends on how stringent the final version of the EU’s AI Act is.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

As for the US, British overtures to the White House to create something similar to the US-EU Trade and Technology Council have been unsuccessful. Much as with the green technology subsidies in America’s Inflation Reduction Act last year, the danger for the UK is that it gets squeezed between the two behemoths.

Regardless, uncertainty lies at the core of the AI debate. That the joint statement was a single sentence – perhaps the only way to get everyone to sign – reflects the divergence of opinion on where the technology, and therefore also the regulation, is heading.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe to it on Substack here.

[See also: There is no chance the government will regulate AI]

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action

Topics in this article : ,