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New data finds tech policy experts are optimistic about the future of AI but fearful that new regulation will fall short

9 November 2021

New data finds tech policy experts are optimistic about the future of AI but fearful that new regulation will fall short

Our Relationship with AI: Friend or Foe, a Global Study has today been released by Clifford Chance and Milltown Partners

  • First-of-its-kind survey of 1000 global tech policymakers and professionals finds they are optimistic about the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) to transform society and the economy for the better.
  • Despite positivity, there is consensus that the era of self-regulation is over, and that new rules of the kind proposed by the UK’s AI Strategy and EU’s AI Act are needed. However, only a third are confident in the ability of regulators to design and apply new rules that work.
  • Results highlight strong variations in attitudes across geographic regions, with French and German policy influencers more optimistic about the ability to mitigate AI’s negative impacts than their counterparts in the U.K. and U.S.

Clifford Chance and Milltown Partners today released Our Relationship with AI: Friend or Foe, a Global Study, a new report based on a survey of 1,000 tech policy professionals across the U.K., U.S., France, and Germany, assembled by Milltown Partners and YouGov.

This report comes at a pivotal moment, as policymakers from the EU to the UK government are on the cusp of setting guidelines for how we will govern AI for decades to come. The data provides an insight into the attitudes of those policymakers, influencers and regulators who are in the process of making these decisions and defining our relationship with technology.

The report concludes that there is still significant positivity among policy influencers towards the potential for AI to have a transformative social and economic impact, but that this is matched with widespread support for regulation, including elements of the proposed EU AI Act and the sector-specific approach taken by the UK Government’s AI Strategy. Only a third of tech policy experts are confident that regulators will get new rules right.

It also uncovers regional variations in attitudes, finding consistently stronger optimism about technology and the likely effectiveness of regulation in France and Germany versus the U.K. and the U.S.

Commenting on the report, Baron Vaizey of Didcot, former Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, incorporating responsibility for digital industries, said:

“AI will help us tackle humanity’s most pressing challenges from food security to climate change. It is therefore encouraging to see data showing positivity about its potential from the policy community that will be responsible for creating a new regulatory settlement for artificial intelligence around the world.

However, the report also shows regulation of AI is inevitable, and could go in many different directions. To ensure AI’s potential is not lost, we will need to create clear rules that balance building trust with promoting innovation. This will be as important as developing the AI processes and applications themselves."

Key findings from the report include:

On positive attitudes to, and perceived benefits of, AI:

  • 66% of respondents perceived AI as likely to have a net positive effect on society and the economy.
  • There is strong support for the application of AI in everyday tasks in the private sector and optimism about its ability to transform science (88%), medicine (81%), and elements of business operations for the better (87).
  • Germany was the most optimistic country with 72% agreeing that AI would have a net positive impact, while the US was the least optimistic at 57%.

On concerns about the risks posed by wider adoption of AI:

  • There are significant concerns about the ability of companies to handle challenging social and policy questions related to AI, including privacy, algorithmic bias, and civil liberties.
  • This reflects a wider pattern of concern about how AI could entrench existing inequalities, benefitting big businesses more than young people or those from minority groups. Just 23% believe AI will likely be positive for underrepresented groups, vs. 36% who believe it will have a negative impact.
  • There is particular concern about the use of AI to automate more complex tasks, especially anything that is seen to assess people or prompt action, with some issues polarising the audience. For example, the use of AI for facial recognition by law enforcement divides respondents by geography, with 62% in France expressing trust versus 32% in the US.

On support for different regulatory approaches:

  • Industry self-regulation is considered a positive first step by 46% of respondents but is seen as inadequate by itself for the majority.
  • There is strong support for a sector-by-sector regulatory approach (62% support) and an openness to the EU’s proposed requirement to register high-risk AI systems with a government or EU-run database (85% support).
  • Businesses have failed to convince policy influencers that there is a real trade-off between introducing new introducing new regulation and stifling innovation (44% disagreement), but this is matched by a scepticism about regulators’ ability to design and implement effective rues, with only a third confident that they will be able to get it right.

Katherine Holden, Head of Data Analytics, AI and Digital ID at TechUK, commented:

“AI has the potential to transform society and the economy for the better. It is therefore crucial that we get the UK’s AI regulatory future right. The recent publication of the UK National AI Strategy presents an opportunity for the UK Government to work with key stakeholders to determine the best course of action.

"The report highlights significant support for a sector-by-sector regulatory approach to AI, which is key to ensuring the UK’s regulatory response is proportionate, pro-innovation and practical; helping to support organisations build, adopt and deploy responsible AI technologies that promote greater public trust and confidence.”

Jonathan Kewley, Partner and Co-Head, Tech Group, Clifford Chance, commented:

"This report provides strikingly clear insights into where tech experts globally see AI regulation moving. Whilst there are regional differences in opinion, there is growing consensus that some form of regulation and guidance by governments is an absolute necessity. Moreover, there are areas that all countries can agree on, like protecting vulnerable groups from AI bias and prejudice.

The data gives us a roadmap for how to build such consensus and develop a meaningful, multilateral approach across countries to effectively govern AI. It also reveals that business is not resistant to this but has the opportunity to help shape the emerging frameworks to address the most challenging issues and ensure the future of AI adoption brings benefits for all."

Leo Rees, Director, Technology Policy, Milltown Partners, commented:

“The debate is no longer centred around whether to regulate AI. The data shows that those deploying AI systems need to understand the nuances of how policy makers and influencers are thinking about the impact this technology has on our societies and economies. This in turn influences their approach to regulation.

For example, we found widespread support for regulation of varying kinds, but 67% of policy influencers believe that big business will be able to bypass whatever rules emerge. That suggests that, below the surface, policymakers are not just thinking of what the right rules are, but also how they can be brought to bear in future. Correspondingly, tech companies should be thinking through how they can show compliance and build trust with policy makers and society over time.”

Read the full report.