To regulate AI, try playing in a sandbox

Article by Dan McCarthy: “For an increasing number of regulators, researchers, and tech developers, the word “sandbox” is just as likely to evoke rulemaking and compliance as it is to conjure images of children digging, playing, and building. Which is kinda the point.

That’s thanks to the rise of regulatory sandboxes, which allow organizations to develop and test new technologies in a low-stakes, monitored environment before rolling them out to the general public. 

Supporters, from both the regulatory and the business sides, say sandboxes can strike the right balance of reining in potentially harmful technologies without kneecapping technological progress. They can also help regulators build technological competency and clarify how they’ll enforce laws that apply to tech. And while regulatory sandboxes originated in financial services, there’s growing interest in using them to police artificial intelligence—an urgent task as AI is expanding its reach while remaining largely unregulated. 

Even for all of its promise, experts told us, the approach should be viewed not as a silver bullet for AI regulation, but instead as a potential step in the right direction. 

Rashida Richardson, an AI researcher and visiting scholar at Rutgers Law School, is generally critical of AI regulatory sandboxes, but still said “it’s worth testing out ideas like this, because there is not going to be any universal model to AI regulation, and to figure out the right configuration of policy, you need to see theoretical ideas in practice.” 

But waiting for the theoretical to become concrete will take time. For example, in April, the European Union proposed AI regulation that would establish regulatory sandboxes to help the EU achieve its aim of responsible AI innovation, mentioning the word “sandbox” 38 times, compared to related terms like “impact assessment” (13 mentions) and “audit” (four). But it will likely take years for the EU’s proposal to become law. 

In the US, some well-known AI experts are working on an AI sandbox prototype, but regulators are not yet in the picture. However, the world’s first and (so far) only AI-specific regulatory sandbox did roll out in Norway this March, as a way to help companies comply with AI-specific provisions of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The project provides an early window into how the approach can work in practice.

“It’s a place for mutual learning—if you can learn earlier in the [product development] process, that is not only good for your compliance risk, but it’s really great for building a great product,” according to Erlend Andreas Gjære, CEO and cofounder of Secure Practice, an information security (“infosec”) startup that is one of four participants in Norway’s new AI regulatory sandbox….(More)”