IPSO Blog: Anticipatory regulation

Standards & Communications Co-ordinator Hanno Fenech discusses the concept of anticipatory regulation and what evolution in journalism could look like in the future.

Last Wednesday, IPSO’s Head of Standards Charlotte Urwin and Standards & Communications Co-ordinator Hanno Fenech attended an event run by Nesta to explore the concept of anticipatory regulation.

Anticipatory regulation describes an approach to regulation that is proactive, iterative and responds to rapidly evolving market areas. Traditionally, regulatory systems have arisen in areas where rapid innovation has blossomed ahead of regulatory oversight. Regulators have then been retroactively formed or enlarged for these sectors to protect competition, safety and public wellbeing.  Nesta is looking at the development of proactive models which can adapt to emerging trends, developing new ways of thinking about what such regulation which mean in practice.

The purpose of anticipatory regulation is to protect public wellbeing by ensuring safety and oversight while not stunting innovations which could bring societal benefits. Regulatory barriers can potentially discourage innovation, especially if high hurdles are placed in the early stages of innovation development, so there is a need for regulators to be aware, not just of innovations within their sector, but also of the impact of cross-sector innovations on regulation.

A case in point is the use of artificial intelligence, which is already having a significant impact on some sectors and will only become more widespread in years to come.

Artificial intelligence may bring to mind the robots of science fiction, but AI is making significant, and potentially beneficial, changes to contemporary journalism. Researchers at the OpenAI institute in San Francisco recently demonstrated the potential of auto-generated journalism by building an algorithm that can create convincingly-human news stories in seconds. Such technology could potentially bring benefits including increased public news access, but it also poses risks for potential abuse.

Automatically-generated journalism has also arrived in the UK. The BBC has recently announced it will use “semi-automated journalism” in its coverage of the upcoming general election. The plan is for BBC journalists to build multiple story templates in advance to cover all possible outcomes in each constituency. Then, on election night, results data will be automatically funnelled into the appropriate template to produce text articles. This will allow them to write up the results for all 650 UK constituencies “minutes after” votes are declared.

The rapid evolution of automated journalism prompts fundamental future questions for press regulators like IPSO – how can we anticipate such changes and operate a regulatory framework which can spread the benefits of new technology while protecting public wellbeing? Which regulatory approaches have the flexibility to adapt to future forms of journalism to the ultimate benefit of news readers?

With the media industry itself undergoing rapid, digital-centric change as online platforms and mobile news reading evolve media consumption patterns, how can we best protect the public and uphold the highest regulatory standards?

Find out more about Nesta’s work on anticipatory regulation here.