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On Thursday 22 February, PICTFOR hosted their event, PICTFOR & Information Commissioner’s Office Reception, which launched the ICO’s Tech Horizons Report.

The event was hosted by PICTFOR Co-Chair Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, and featured insights from Chi Onwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Science, Research, & Innovation, Sue Daley, Director of Technology and Innovation at techUK, and Stephen Almond, Executive Director for Regulatory Risk at the ICO.

Caroline provided opening remarks, discussing the complex moment for the tech industry, before handing over to Chi Onwurah MP. Chi began by commending bipartisan discussions and noting her previous career in chartered technology. She highlighted the opportunities the tech industry offers for collaboration and innovation. Discussing her previous work for Ofcom, Chi explained that forward looking regulation can be an enabler of innovation and competition, rather than a barrier.

Chi said that the ICO’s report reflects the opportunities and challenges posed by the rate of innovation, noting that this should inform how we should proactively ensure that new technology benefits the public. A key element of this, Chi added, is making tech accessible and inclusive – something that people can become a part of. This inclusivity requires empowering people to control their data, emphasising consent, and developing a regulatory framework like those that already regulate food or energy. Chi argued that these measures would drive down barriers to growth.

The Chair then introduced Sue Daley, Director of Technology and Innovation at techUK. Sue argued that, as the tech industry changes, we must understand what new technologies are and what they are not. This informs how we select the right next steps in responsible and proactive regulation. As our understanding develops, she suggested, we will need a regulatory approach that can flex and shift as technology changes.

Sue also highlighted that our regulatory approach should account for everyone in our society, which means making the right decisions about the speed of regulation. As technology is constantly evolving, so should regulation- considering both risks and potential. She also noted that a smart regulatory approach, focused on the future, questions whether regulation is always the answer. Guidance or advice could sometimes be more appropriate, she argued, and regulators may always not have the capacity and capability.

Sue continued, examining how cross cutting technologies may demand collaboration between regulators. She questioned whether we have the institutions and bodies ready to deal with new technologies like neurotech. Sue argued that industry, government, regulators, academia, and civil society should work together to continue this conversation.

Caroline then handed over to Stephen Almond, Executive Director for Regulatory Risk at the ICO. Stephen introduced the report, which covered 8 technologies to understand the likely impact they will have on regulatory requirements: genomics, immersive virtual worlds, neurotechnologies, quantum computing, commercial use of drones, personalised artificial intelligence, next generation search, and central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). He argued that horizon scanning gives regulators a head start and innovators certainty, while indicating to regulators which technologies need their attention.

Stephen explained the rationale behind the ICO’s selection of 8 technologies to discuss; chosen based on market penetration, privacy risks, and impact on vulnerable groups. Using neurotechnology (or ‘neurotech’) as an example, Stephen explained how new technologies pose new regulatory challenges. Neurotech is widespread in healthcare services and, wellbeing, sports, marketing, and more. By nature, this technology reveals sensitive, unconscious data, meaning new regulation will be required. Stephen continued, highlighting that bias may become an issue in neurotech as algorithms tend to omit the experiences of neurodivergent people.

Stephen said that the ICO will be providing guidance on challenging areas including the above. He explained that the ICO will undertake more engagement and dialogue, identifying missed opportunities and concerns. He finished by noting that there are new regulatory sandboxes being held to support innovative organisations.

Dame Caroline Dinenage MP returned to the stage to thank the speakers and attendees.

PICTFOR would like to thank our speakers and our host, Dame Caroline Dinenage MP.

If you would like further information on this topic or about PICTFOR’s programme of events, please get in touch!

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