On 8th June 2023, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and President of The United States Joe Biden confirmed The Atlantic Declaration and accompanying Action Plan (ADAPT) between the two countries. The declaration sets out the framework for a “Twenty-First Century US-UK Economic Partnership to ensure that our unique alliance is adapted, reinforced, and reimagined for the challenges of this moment”. Of the five pillars contained within the Declaration, three primarily impact technology;
- Ensuring US – UK leadership in critical and emerging technologies
- Advancing ever-closer cooperation on our economic security and technology protection toolkits and supply chains
- Partnering on an inclusive and responsible digital transformation
What are the key takeaways for the technology industry, and what tangible outcomes should we expect as a result?
Ensuring US – UK leadership in critical and emerging technologies
The first pillar aims to create and share research and development and secure private capital investment towards the advancement of the critical and key emerging technologies that will form the backbone of new industry and underpin national security. Within this pillar, the specific industries called out are semiconductors, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, cutting-edge telecommunications, and synthetic biology. There is also mention of facilitating reciprocal talent flows, however, the detail on this is relatively thin.
This pillar signals an intent to provide access to additional funding from private investors for organizations and start-ups operating in the aforementioned industries. The challenge will be how high the bar is set to obtain the funding and whether the focus will be on large multinational corporations re-shoring their supply chains to the UK and US, or whether this will create a significant opportunity for challengers and disruptors to break through.
Advancing ever-closer cooperation on our economic security and technology protection toolkits and supply chains
The second pillar, covering economic security and technology protection toolkits, is primarily focused on securing intellectual property and preventing the leakage of “sensitive and dual-use emerging technologies, and other export-controlled commodities and technologies”. In addition, this pillar aims to reduce vulnerabilities across technology supply chains deemed critical. To date, wording released by the UK Government only mentions the semiconductor industry by name, suggesting that this is the key initial area of bilateral focus. However, the broader wording; “and other critical technology supply chains” suggests a catch-all for future emerging priorities.
This pillar focuses largely on the changing geostrategic and technological environment and how the US and UK can protect the use of key technologies and ensure control over the IP, e.g. the ability to use economic sanctions where such technologies are provided to “countries of concern” such as Russia due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. This could have significant consequences should companies be found to supplying their technologies to organizations linked to or directly supporting nation-states where the UK and US have applied economic sanctions.
Partnering on an inclusive and responsible digital transformation
The third pillar focuses on setting appropriate government policies to support responsible innovation. This term is not further defined; however, the pillar focuses, in the main part, on accelerating cooperation on AI, including the “safe and responsible development of the technology” with the role of government being defined as an enabler to “unlock the opportunities and mitigate the risks arising from the rapid development of these technologies”. On this basis, it is our assertion that responsible innovation is to innovate whilst complying with the impending AI regulations to be developed and adopted in the UK and US respectively.
The pillar also covers a new Data Bridge between the two countries which will facilitate data flows with a focus on enhanced and effective privacy protections. The framework for this bridge has not yet been finalized, and assessments are ongoing on both sides of the Atlantic. There is also acknowledgment of the Global Summit on AI Safety, to be launched in 2023 by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. This summit aims to bring together key countries, leading technology companies and researchers to drive international action to ensure safety and security and to monitor the risks of AI.
Questions have to be asked on how effective this pillar will be in controlling the development of AI. Has it come too late in the day? Does a US/UK partnership have enough clout in the face of a different regulatory approach in other parts of the world?
This technology is now a key part of our everyday life and its usage is accelerating at lightening quick speeds. By the time the Global Summit on AI Safety takes place later this year there will be far more data available as well as use cases and learnings. Should AI be deemed to be out of control or be suspected of posing a threat to national and or international security, this could result in significant unilateral restrictions being placed on its usage. However, given the global nature of AI development, speed of adoption and how well ingrained AI is becoming, the ability and appetite of governments to effectively monitor the market and enforce such restrictions is unclear and as such unilateral restrictions may be futile.