The Regulators' Pioneer Fund – laying the ground rules for robolawyers and flying cars

UK Government has announced £10m of support for fifteen projects that will help to frame the regulatory environment for the technologies of the future. The Regulators' Pioneer Fund will provide earmarked funding for work within existing regulators to make specific improvements across the four priority areas identified in the Government's Industrial Strategy.

The winning projects are:

AI and data

  • The Information Commissioner's Office will set up a Regulators' Business Privacy Innovation Hub. A pool of ICO experts will work with other regulators to enable innovation across other sectors and develop approaches based on ‘privacy by design'.
  • Telecoms regulator Ofcom will develop a secure sandbox environment for voice communications providers to trial porting and managing telephone numbers using blockchain.
  • Gas and electricity market regulator Ofgem has secured funding for two projects in this area:
    • Secure Data Exchange: to transform the way data is exchanged and managed between regulated marketplace participants and facilitate market disruption.
    • Energy Market Challenge: Building on the Open Banking model, Ofgem will provide a safe environment for innovative businesses to develop ideas aimed at improving services to customers, such as AI-assisted services, integrated money management apps, online banking apps and chatbots.
  • The Intellectual Property Office will look for AI solutions to enhance its online filing process, for example by using AI-powered preliminary searches for applicants filing for patents, trade marks and designs.
  • Solicitors Regulation Authority - The new SRA Innovate Testbed is an open competition to find and accelerate ethical AI-powered legal services, with a focus on growing the underdeveloped legal services market for small businesses and consumers.
  • Financial Conduct Authority - The FCA and Bank of England will look at how technology could potentially improve the efficiency of the current regulatory reporting process, with a view to efficiency gains, reducing barriers to entry and promoting competition.

Ageing society

  • Care Quality Commission - This project will explore how CQC can encourage models of innovation that maximise benefits while keeping people safe, and test out new ways of engaging with innovative providers, such as regulatory sandboxing.
  • Medicines and medical device regulator the MHRA will partner with NHS Digital to develop synthetic datasets to enable innovators to validate algorithms and artificial intelligence used in new medical devices.

Clean growth

  • Ofgem's Future Services Lab will work with the Energy Systems Catapult to trial fundamental regulatory reforms aiming to improve the retail energy market.
  • The Scottish Environment Protection Agency plans to develop a Decommissioning Regulatory Hub, supporting industry to develop and test innovative new products/services for decommissioning.

Future of mobility

  • A Maritime and Coastguard Agency project will promote the Autonomous and Smart Shipping Industries by finding new regulatory approaches, and make marine and maritime data assets available to remove barriers and catalyse new collaborations.
  • The Civil Aviation Authority is planning a new advisory service to offer preliminary regulatory guidance and help the CAA understand the innovation pipeline. The project will include a regulatory sandbox to allow controlled testing of selected innovations, and a regulatory lab to develop new regulatory frameworks for innovations such as flying taxis and automated systems.
  • The UK Space Agency plans a Spaceflight Licensing Digital Gateway for commercial operators, and a ‘a one-stop shop' for spaceflight licences from both the UKSA and CAA.

Of course, these focused projects will not build a regulatory framework suitable for all innovative technologies  - there's nothing here on driverless cars or robotics for example - but taking a practical approach to problems identified by existing regulators is a good start. Several of the projects involve new regulatory sandboxes. This is promising given how popular these have been with innovators in the FinTech sector.

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