Regulating The Next Generation Of Technology

Technology is advancing faster than our ability to regulate it

In the last year alone, Facebook has lost control of millions of people’s data, and criminals have hacked internet connected devices to attack websites. Developing effective regulation for disruptive technology is urgent. Consumers and businesses alike are looking to regulators to take a lead.

Our recent research, Rethinking Regulators, found, unsurprisingly, that three-quarters of UK consumers think it’s important to regulate the use of AI in dangerous applications, such as weapons. Three-quarters of consumers also think regulators should be ahead of businesses in their sector, and 61 per cent of regulated organisations agreed. The trouble is, regulatory approaches that worked for water, energy or healthcare don’t work for digital, data and technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Governments and regulators are struggling to keep up – but they need to. So, how can they tackle these fresh challenges?

Work closely with industry and technologies

Regulators are most able to do their work when they understand the challenges for businesses in their area. So organisations and regulators must have open conversations about their plans. And regulators need to learn about technologies in their space. Regulators could also embrace emerging technologies to make their work more effective. RegTech – the use of technology to help businesses meet regulatory requirements – is on the rise. And blockchain offers better transparency, letting regulators see one immutable record.

Find new ways to look at the future

Future work isn’t about making predictions, it’s about understanding what might change. A better understanding of future possibilities allows for better decision-making now. Responsible regulators should be proactive in their approach to the future, using foresight tools to anticipate challenges.

Scenario planning can help explore uncertainty, challenging assumptions and testing possible responses from regulators.

While horizon scanning can help regulators get better at foreseeing the development of emerging technologies and markets.

These tools don’t lead to predictions, they instead investigate evidence about future trends to get a robust framework for what could happen.

Take a big picture view

Technologies don’t work in isolation. Self-driving cars, for example, are transport, on roads that need an energy infrastructure. No one regulator will have all the answers. So, it’s more realistic to treat technology as part of a complex and dynamic socio-technical system. This view produces more flexible, and therefore less risky, regulation that cultivates behaviours that create value for people and society. The alternative tends to be regulation driven by technical and economic ambition.

Simple collaboration can make all the difference. So, invite other regulators along to future analysis sessions and bring industry into meetings early.

Successful regulation is always a balancing act. Regulators need to foster strong, fair markets and innovation. At the same time, they need to ensure people’s rights to control their data and protect their privacy. With proactive thinking, regulators can shape a better future for everyone.

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