The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has proposed seven guiding principles for foundation models (FMs) that underpin all AI systems, and warns the AI boom may not be positive development for many people.

The CMA announced that its initial review of foundation models and its proposed principles aim to ensure consumer protection and healthy competition remain at the heart of responsible development and use of FMs.

It comes as the UK government prepares to host a global AI Safety Summit that will be held at the one of the birthplaces of computer science, Bletchley Park, on 1 and 2 November this year.

Foundational models

The AI Safety Summit is the first major international summit of its kind on the safe use of artificial intelligence, and will host talks “to explore and build consensus on rapid, international action to advance safety at the frontier of AI technology.”

Ahead of this comes the CMA’s review of AI foundational models and the publishing of a report, which highlights how people and businesses stand to benefit if the development and use of FMs, works well.

The CMA says this could be through new and better products and services, easier access to information, scientific and health breakthroughs, and lower prices. It added that the impact of FMs could also allow a wider range of firms to compete successfully and challenge existing market leaders.

But the CMA’s report also warned that if competition is weak, or developers fail to heed consumer protection law, people and businesses could be harmed. It cited the example of people potentially being exposed to significant levels of false and misleading information and AI-enabled fraud.

In the longer term, a handful of firms could use FMs to gain or entrench positions of market power and fail to offer the best products and services and/or charge high prices, the CMA has warned.

The CMA noted that FMs also raise other concerns such as copyright and intellectual property, online safety, data protection, security, but these were not included in the scope of the CMA’s initial review which focussed on competition and consumer protection concerns.

Seven principles

To ensure a better outcome for humanity, the CMA therefore proposes seven principles to guide the ongoing development and use of FMs, drawing on lessons learned from the evolution of other technology markets and how they might apply to FMs, as they are developed.

The proposed guiding principles from the CMA are:

  • Accountability – FM developers and deployers are accountable for outputs provided to consumers;
  • Access – ongoing ready access to key inputs, without unnecessary restrictions;
  • Diversity – sustained diversity of business models, including both open and closed;
  • Choice – sufficient choice for businesses so they can decide how to use FMs;
  • Flexibility – having the flexibility to switch and/or use multiple FMs according to need;
  • Fair dealing – no anti-competitive conduct including anti-competitive self-preferencing, tying or bundling;
  • Transparency – consumers and businesses are given information about the risks and limitations of FM-generated content so they can make informed choices.

The CMA said that over the coming months it will undertake a significant programme of engagement with a wide range of stakeholders across the UK and internationally, to develop these principles further.

Shaping the market

“The speed at which AI is becoming part of everyday life for people and businesses is dramatic,” noted Sarah Cardell, CEO of the CMA. “There is real potential for this technology to turbo charge productivity and make millions of everyday tasks easier – but we can’t take a positive future for granted.”

Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority.
Image credit CMA

“There remains a real risk that the use of AI develops in a way that undermines consumer trust or is dominated by a few players who exert market power that prevents the full benefits being felt across the economy,” said Cardell.

“The CMA’s role is to help shape these markets in ways that foster strong competition and effective consumer protection, delivering the best outcomes for people and businesses across the UK,” said Cardell. “In rapidly developing markets like these, it’s critical we put ourselves at the forefront of that thinking, rather than waiting for problems to emerge and only then stepping in with corrective measures.”

“That’s why we have today proposed these new principles and launched a broad programme of engagement to help ensure the development and use of foundation models evolves in a way that promotes competition and protects consumers,” Cardell concluded. “While I hope that our collaborative approach will help realise the maximum potential of this new technology, we are ready to intervene where necessary.”

The CMA will provide an update on its FM proposals in early 2024.

AI Safety Summit

Meanwhile the global AI Safety Summit seeks to resolve concerns about AI, after multiple calls from some experts about real world risks of ungoverned development of AI systems in the years ahead.

In July the issue of AI was discussed the United Nations Security Council, as nations and governments around the world grapple over its regulation and governance.

The UK under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak agreed with President Biden in June to host an international summit on the risks and regulation of AI later this year.

The UK PM also said he wanted the UK to be the “geographical home” of coordinated international efforts to regulate AI.

The UK has already set out its plan to regulate the artificial intelligence (AI) sector and proposed five principles to guide its use via its “adaptable” AI plan, so as to not stifle innovation.

Other governments and nations are at different states of proposed legislation of the technology.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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