Technology horizon-scanning programme launched by UK regulatory bodies

Goal of the initiative is to build knowledge and understanding of emerging tools

A horizon-scanning programme has been launched by a group of UK regulatory bodies to build knowledge and understanding of emerging technologies.

Described as a move that will bring benefits to regulators, consumers and industry, the programme is led by the Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF), which comprises the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Office of Communications (Ofcom), the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

The goal of the initiative is to provide a “coherent view” of new and emerging digital markets and technologies, so that the government can keep pace with changes in digital and online services. According to the member organisations, the DRCF has made inroads into collating and synthesising the research and knowledge in the field, and the new programme is a way of doing more in terms of joined-up thinking.

Ongoing work by the DRCF includes insights by Ofcom on themes such as internet use and attitudes, an artificial intelligence programme led by the FCA and the ICO’s regulatory sandbox, as well as shared expertise on specific developments in tech areas such as cloud computing and privacy-enhancing technologies.

A work plan for the horizon-scanning programme in 2022-23 is yet to be published, but three initial priorities have been outlined. The first is to make it easier for all to find the DRCF knowledge. To address this, the Forum will make all its publicly available research available via a single website, with links to relevant work across the member organisations.

The second priority is for the DRCF to engage with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the tech startup community and academia to learn more about the most promising technologies that will shape UK digital products and services and, at the same time, make it easier for smaller organisations to talk to the Forum. Work around this area will be focused on SMEs in cities with relevant tech communities in UK cities such as Manchester, Edinburgh and London.

The third priority relates to accelerated knowledge building in areas that are developing quickly, but also hold important opportunities and risks. These include cloud computing, distributed ledger technologies, artificial intelligence, quantum and advertising technologies, the internet of things, immersive tech such as augmented reality, plus biometrics and cyber security.

Reiterating that it wants to keep an “always open” line of communication, the DRCF said it is interested in hearing from parties who are working with emerging technologies that could be relevant to the Forum’s work or impact its objectives.

The DRCF also noted that it will be iterative in its approach and will engage with the wider regulatory community with parties interested in sharing and building knowledge on emerging tech. The Forum said it will be working with other UK regulator forums, and interested parties such as the Regulatory Horizons Council and the Government Office for Science, as part of the new programme.

The DRCF was formed in July 2020 to strengthen the working relationships between the regulators and establish a greater level of cooperation. In March 2021, the group, which initially comprised the CMA, the ICO and Ofcom, announced its workplan for 2021. Priorities included setting out a roadmap for how the regulators will increase the scope and scale of their cooperation, pooling expertise and resources, working together on digital regulatory matters of mutual interest, and annually reporting on the results of their collaboration.

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