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Labour will wrap regulation around big tech, slice red tape for small innovators

As current government looks to "upskill" existing regulators to police AI

Photo by Nick Kane / Unsplash

Labour’s shadow science and innovation minister said the party would rein in big tech’s stranglehold on AI if it wins the next UK election, while simultaneously cutting through regulation holding back smaller firms.

The plan is at odds with the government’s announcement today that it wants existing regulators to come up with plans to police AI.

Chi Onwurah kicked off the State of Open Conference in London by saying software was clearly part of everyone’s lives, but “to many it is obscure and inaccessible.”

She said, “My constituents feel software technology is something that is done to them rather than with them and for their benefit..I want people to feel empowered to take control of the software that rules their workplaces and personal lives.”

Open source will be an important part of this, with its transparency and accessibility being a big contributor to public confidence. The Labour front bench had fully grasped this, she said, as well as the need for “well targeted, activist regulations to be both pro growth and pro innovation.”

At the same, she said, “We’ve been clear the Labour government will urgently introduce binding regulations on a small group of companies developing the most powerful AI models.”

As well as building trust, she said, the aim was to deliver security and opportunity for working people. “Just as with food or an electrical product, people need to have a basic level of trust that technology products are safe. We need to have that view with regard to digital technologies.”

This would be a very different tack to the current government, which while recognising concerns over AI is taking a light touch “agile” model.

This week it emerged that the current government has asked regulators such as Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority to “outline their approach to managing the technology,” with a cut off of April 30. The government has carved out a £10m pot to fund “upskilling” by regulators to take on AI.

At the same time, it will launch a “steering committee… to support and guide the activities of a formal regulator coordination structure within government.”

While big tech can expect  tighter regulation from Labour, Unwurah said a Labour government would also launch a “regulatory innovation office” which would drive its pro innovation regulatory agenda, based on its industrial strategy.

This would focus on barriers to innovation, “So can we remove the regulatory barriers to innovation.” She said some key tech companies found themselves subject to different regulators.

Labour’s first mission in government, she said, “is to achieve the highest sustained growth in the G7.” This was a huge ambition, she said, because “In the UK, we haven't seen decent levels of growth since well, since the last Labour government.”

The first barrier to achieving this? Winning a general election this year.