UCL Faculty of Laws


Hybrid | Responsibly Buying Artificial Intelligence: A Regulatory Hallucination?

23 November 2023, 6:00 pm–7:00 pm

Image of artificial intelligence

This lecture will be delivered by Professor Albert Sanchez-Graells, as part of the Current Legal Problems Lecture Series 2023-24

Event Information

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UCL Laws

Speaker: Professor Albert Sanchez-Graells (University of Bristol Law School)

Chair: Michael Bowsher KC (Monckton Chambers)

About the lecture

The UK aspires to become a global leader in Artificial Intelligence (AI) safety. The UK's 2021 National AI Strategy highlighted that government 'has a role to play when it comes to the use of AI, both as a significant market pull in terms of public procurement ... but also in terms of using the technology to solve big public policy challenges'. Public buyers are expected to 'confidently and responsibly procure AI technologies for the benefit of citizens', and 'government must lead from the front and set an example in the safe and ethical deployment of AI'. The National AI Strategy ultimately expects government to act as a responsible buyer of AI. However, government has also been clear in its March 2023 White Paper that it will stick to a 'pro-innovation approach' to AI regulation. No new rules or regulatory structures have been proposed. Public buyers are expected to self-regulate to 'responsibly buy AI', building on limited existing guidance and despite a growing gap in public sector digital skills. 

This light-touch approach to the regulation of public sector digitalisation is risky. Whether it will be successful is a high stakes bet, as AI and other digital technologies quickly penetrate most areas of public sector activity and the provision of public services. The government is investing £8bn in digital, data and technology transformation between 2022 and 2025. The Chancellor has also told ministers to quicken AI adoption to boost the economy, and technology is being considered as a 'fix' for many a challenge in crucial public services such as the NHS or education. Enormous public resources will thus be invested in AI and other digital technologies in the short term. If procurement is not capable of 'confidently and responsibly' acquiring those technologies, many problems and risks to individual and collective rights loom in the horizon.

This lecture will explore whether the public buyer is adequately placed to take on the role of public sector digital gatekeeper and (self-)regulator. It will highlight weaknesses in the strategy of leveraging procurement as a tool of 'digital regulation by contract' and will present the basic design features of an alternative regulatory approach.

About the speaker

Albert Sanchez-Graells is a Professor of Economic Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Global Law and Innovation at the University of Bristol Law School. He is a specialist in EU and UK economic law and focuses on competition, State aid, and public procurement law and policy. Albert authored the leading monograph Public Procurement and the EU Competition Rules, 2nd edn (Hart, 2015). In 2022, Albert was awarded a Mid-Career Fellowship by the British Academy to support completion of his most recent monograph Digital Technologies and Public ProcurementGatekeeping and experimentation in digital public governance (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

About Current Legal Problems

The Current Legal Problems (CLP) lecture series and annual volume was established over fifty five years ago at the Faculty of Laws, University College London and is recognised as a major reference point for legal scholarship.

Book your place

You can attend this event in-person at UCL Faculty of Laws (Bentham House, 4-8 Endsleigh Gardens, London WC1H 0EG) or alternatively you can join via a live stream.

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Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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