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How Artificial Intelligence Is Impacting The UK’s Legal Landscape

Written by Cheng Shaye-Anne for the Tech & Media Section.

With the ever strengthening grip AI is having on society and the tech world, once again the law is being asked to adapt to another change in human development. The government has shown its interest in cultivating AI and UK's tech front, but, how does this reflect within the law? This article explores just that.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been turning the field of technology into a whole new ball game. From ChatGPT to facial recognition software, the pervasiveness of AI is now practically inescapable, and its rapid growth does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon. With this in mind, it would probably be useful to understand how AI has been shaping the UK’s legal landscape in recent years, and projections for the future.

Firstly, it should be noted that the Legislature has officially given a definition to AI, with the National Security and Investment Act 2021[1] defining it as “technology enabling the programming or training of a device or software to – (i) perceive environments through the use of data; (ii) interpret data using automated processing designed to approximate cognitive abilities; (iii) make recommendations, predictions or decisions; with a view to achieving a specific objective”.

In the UK, the sentiment surrounding AI in relation to the law has generally been optimistic and enthusiastic, with the nation hoping to take the lead in developing policy regulations and standards that can become internationally renowned and implemented. To put it succinctly, the British Standards Institution (BSI) aims to make the UK a “global standards maker, not a standards taker in AI”[2].

To set this vision into motion, the government has created the National AI Strategy[3], which details the current national position on managing the growth of AI in the coming years. The strategy places an emphasis on the importance of embracing innovation, enthusiastically welcoming the integration of AI into the UK. The UK Science and Technology Framework[4] echoes and expands on this through establishing a vision to make the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030, flagging out AI as one of five crucial technologies. Both papers note the importance of regulation in creating a conducive environment for AI to be developed, detailing potential strategies for doing so.

In recent years, the UK Government has also created various organisations to assist and expedite the discussion surrounding AI technology adoption. For instance, the AI Council is a non-statutory expert committee which was “set up to provide advice to government and high-level leadership of the AI ecosystem… to put the UK at the forefront of artificial intelligence and data revolution”. In order to supervise the implementation of AI, the Government Office for AI has been also set up to work with industry, academia and the non-profit sectors regarding this issue. The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has been made to advise on potential measures to advance the national strategy for data-driven technologies, acting as “a connector between Government and wider society”[5]. Furthermore, the ARIA, which has been given effect to by the Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill 2022[6], is an independent research body that will aid in promoting technological change with a methodology of “high risk, high reward”. It will focus on how research is funded, rather than focusing on a specific industry or technology, and will fall within BEIS.

Therefore, it is evident that the government aims to take advantage of the opportunities that AI technologies present in order to strengthen the UK’s position as a global leader in AI, through promoting innovation, investment and public trust in AI.

Historically, whenever the world has been on the vanguard of a new era, regulations have tended to be seen as shackles rather than safeguards. Yet, an exploration of the legal implications that this rapid change will bring is still imperative. For instance, the regulation of autonomous vehicles might gain traction as Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) pervade the automobile industry. As more ethical implications arise in the legal field, new areas of jurisprudence may arise as well, extending the exploration of human nature & its relationship to the law and AI. On the other hand, some areas of law might potentially be made obsolete. For example, blockchain could make certain, more standardised areas of Contract Law redundant. Well-defined personal injury actions in Tort Law could be replaced by AI too.

Where does data come from? Who owns it? Considering historical trends, it is fair to predict that people who have the most money and power will call the shots on the development of AI, rather than legal bodies. There is likely to be a continuing trend of AI causing power to be concentrated in the hands of only a few people. With this in mind, it is important to ask what could be done to prevent a potentially damaging situation for the less privileged.

AI can posit public-private distinctions, these can be programmed for different legal contexts

With the growing list of moral and legal implications that follow from the rise of AI, it is vital for the legal landscape to keep evolving and paying close attention to changes, so that appropriate safeguards may be put in place. Most of all, in the words of Albert Einstein, “The human spirit must prevail over technology”.


[1] National Security and Investment Act 2021 (Notifiable Acquisition) (Specification of Qualifying Entities) Regulations 2021

[2] Free, R., Kerrigan, C. and Zapisetskaya, B. (2023) Ai, Machine Learning & Big Data Laws and regulations: United Kingdom: GLI, GLI - Global Legal Insights - International legal business solutions.

[3] Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, National AI Strategy (Command Paper 525, 2021)

[4] Secretary of State for Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, UK Science and Technology Framework (2023)

[5] Ibid

[6] Advanced Research and Invention Agency Act 2022

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