By James Flint


Last week I spent a fascinating afternoon at London Tech Week moderating a discussion on RegTech and AI.

In case you don’t know, RegTech stands for Regulatory Technology. RegTech companies use technology to help businesses comply with regulations more efficiently and cost-effectively than might otherwise be the case by handling some of the demands of monitoring, reporting, and compliance.

It’s mainly a financial sector phenomenon, where regulations are seemingly endless and constantly changing. But over in data protection, where I work, regulations are pretty rife as well – and getting rifer, especially if you’re moving data across national borders at any kind of scale which most of our clients at Securys are. And to add to the fun we’ve now got AI regulation coming at us down the track.

These new AI regulations are of particular interest to me; I’ve recently written a series of blogs on the subject, and I was asked to chair the panel because of my involvement with SAIS, a cross-disciplinary collaboration between the Departments of Informatics, Digital Humanities and The Policy Institute at King's College London, the Department of Computing at Imperial College London, and Microsoft, Humley, and Mycroft. SAIS analyses the Secure AI assistantS ecosystem and is developing tools to monitor the security behaviour of AI assistants using model-based AI techniques.

I was keen to find, therefore, just what RegTech might have to teach the rest of us about using technology to help handle the regulatory load of using more technology (yes, this is the world in which we all now live). Joining me in this endeavour were some excellent experts. From the world of RegTech itself we had Robert (Bob) Wardrop, founder & CEO of RegGenome, a commercial spin-out from a research project at the Cambridge Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, where Bob’s also a member of the finance faculty.

Providing some legal perspective we had Emma Wright, head of the Technology, Data and Digital team at Harbottle & Lewis. Emma is fluent in AI, cyber, digital infrastructure and Ofcom regulation and she also sits on the UNESCO Global Expert Panel of women focussed on AI and ethics and is helping implement the UNESCO recommendation on Ethics in AI.

Finally, representing the political classes, was the Director of Digital and Technology Policy at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, Blake Bower, who is also a Member of the Bureau of the Committee on Artificial Intelligence in the Council of Europe.

So what did we learn? What nuggets did we excavate?

The first one, pointed out by Bob Wardrop, was almost blinding in its simplicity. If you want to use machine learning tools to help you parse and comply with regulations, the most helpful thing of all is that those regulations should be published, not just as PDFs (primarily designed for humans to read), but also in a machine  -readable format that machines can read, particularly if the documentations has tables in it. Although optical character recognition (OCR) is very good now, it still has a lot of problem pulling data out of tables. Something else must be done.

Another challenge is settling on the meanings of words. We’re not just talking about translation between languages; Blake Bower told us that English to English is also a problem. Some concepts, like “proportionality”, mean very different things in the UK from what they mean in the US, and this is a major issue when getting machines (and humans) to understand legislation.

Emma Wright provided key insight number three, which was that, when drafting legislation for regulating AI, we shouldn’t forget the fact that plenty of things that can help do the job already exist. Notably the UNESCO framework on Ethics and AI that she’s helped put together, along with international copyright and IP laws, not to mention existing data protection regulations which cover a lot of AI bases through their emphasis on transparency, accuracy and confidentiality of data.

It was a lively discussion and there were lots of other points made in passing. If you missed the panel and would like a bit more insight into challenges your company is facing, don’t be shy about dropping us a line at Securys to discuss by using the form below. We’d be delighted to meet up for a chat!