What Would a Labour Government Mean for the UK Tech Sector?

3 July 2024 | Eleanor Lightbody

With the general election looming, the UK is facing a period of significant change. Technology is a core aspect of this change, as countries around the world grapple with its regulation, application and innovation.

Labour’s manifesto made some promising commitments. They acknowledged technology’s vital role as a means to grow the economy, improve productivity, and address societal challenges, such as the overwhelmed NHS, cost-of-living crisis and increased energy insecurity. But what does this look like in practice? Let’s take a look at how Labour is planning to harness this increasingly prevalent sector, and what this could mean for fast-growing companies like Luminance…

Labour’s Key Strategies…

Labour intends to establish a Regulatory Innovation Office, bringing together existing functions across government. This is designed to improve accountability, speed up approval times and promote cross-sector innovation in regulation. It’s certainly a welcome step if it means the UK can be faster and more forward-thinking in its approach to regulation. AI is developing at a rapid pace and the EU AI Act took years to pass – policymakers need to move quickly in order to keep up.

They’ve also said they will be introducing binding regulation for companies developing the most powerful models. It would force the frontier AI labs to release their safety data, in order to ensure standards already in the voluntary code are effectively legislated. This essentially mirrors the EU’s draft regulation, which is focused on pinpointing and then regulating dangerous AI models. The aim of this ‘agile pro-innovation regulation’ is to allow innovative AI businesses to continue to develop their models while limiting harmful ones.

Labour has also promised to work closely with start-ups and university spinouts to ensure they have the capital needed to scale. To further support innovation from smaller businesses, they have committed to putting R&D funding cycles on a 10-year footing and simplifying the government procurement processes to make it easier for start-ups to bid for government contracts. This should hopefully even the playing field, preventing the largest players from completely dominating the tech scene.

What Luminance Would Like to See…

AI Washing Regulation – As the AI hype continues to grow, we’re seeing more and more vendors overstating their use of AI in order to create a halo effect for their business. The misleading practice of AI washing creates a confusing and noisy market for end buyers. As the CEO of an organisation offering true, proprietary AI, this is increasingly frustrating. The government needs to put frameworks in place to prevent this kind of misinformation – clear, hard guidelines and definitions for starters, combined with real consequences for violations.

Inclusive Discussions – With constant dialogue surrounding AI, we’re seeing the same big names crop up time and time again. Whilst of course the larger organisations need a seat at the table, I’d like to see a wider range of voices included. By excluding start-ups and scale-ups from these discussions, we risk missing alternative perspectives. If the big companies are left to mark their own homework, we could end up with regulation that favours these kinds of organisations, cutting out smaller companies that don’t have the same kinds of resources.

Agile regulation – As the government attempts to put pen to paper and provide tangible legislation, the key here is taking an agile approach. The EU Act did this well, offering clear definitions and distinctions for various parties involved in AI, and I’d like to see the UK government emulate this verticalised approach. The uses of AI are so diverse, so regulation needs to reflect that. The risks associated with autonomous vehicles for example are going to be very different to if you’re using AI in a legal context – a one-size-fits-all approach simply isn’t possible or effective.

Ultimately, I hope that the new government succeeds in realising the UK’s potential as a world leader in artificial intelligence. There’s no doubt times are changing, and we need action now to make the most of the incredible opportunities this technology has to offer.