Regulating Disruptive Technologies

The growth of mega-corporations such as Meta/Facebook and Google meant that competition authorities needed to be strengthened and regulation needed to be deployed in building public trust in the use of innovative technologies.

It now looks as though the world may have entered a further Industrial Revolution in which the physical, biological and digital worlds are coming together in the form of new technologies such as machine learning, big data, robotics and gene editing. Modern technologies cut costs and facilitate activities which would otherwise be impossible. But they create other costs and unforeseen consequences that are undesirable.

The regulation of this new world is likely to be very complex, very varied and very detailed. An analogy might be drawn with the way that road traffic, vehicle construction, emissions and other regulation has developed over the many decades since petrol driven cars first appeared on our roads. Writing in the New Scientist, Douglas Heaven pointed out that ...

The trouble is, robotic intervention into human affairs is going to require something far more comprehensive than the highway code. Legislation that protects passengers and pedestrians from driverless cars, for example, will be powerless to stop data-scraping algorithms from influencing our vote. Medical robots programmed to diagnose and treat people will need different regulations from those sent onto the battlefield. ... There is another hurdle, too. Interpreting rules requires common sense. It’s not clear how you would encode even the most obvious of commandments in a way that a machine could be trusted to follow ...

But it is vital that regulatory frameworks are pro-competitive so that innovators can test their ideas. It is a mistake to have a regulatory framework which requires every innovation to be challenged before it can be put into practice. But it is equally important that potentially dangerous technologies are properly evaluated before deployment.

(There was an interesting Policy Exchange roundtable in July 2017 which considered how regulation might keep up with disruptive regulation. Follow this link to download a note of the discussion.)

Lloyds Register published an interesting Foresight Review in early 2021.  It focussed on 'regulatory systems – the combination of formal laws (regulations) and informal interactions between a myriad of different but inter-reliant people and organisations that combine to shape behaviours and deliver positive outcomes'.  It stressed the importance of diversity within policy and regulatory teams, and the need to pay attention to regulatory boundaries, including the environment outside those boundaries. It had a particularly good section on regulation in a disruptive world. 

The full report is here.



Martin Stanley

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