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BT exec Ross scans horizon for government role

A senior BT Group executive is to spearhead a new public body that will scrutinise whether regulation is keeping pace with advances in robotics and artificial intelligence-related technology.

Sky News has learnt that Cathryn Ross, the telecoms company’s director of regulatory affairs, is to chair the government’s Regulatory Horizons Council (RHC).

An announcement about the appointment of Ms Ross, the former boss of water industry regulator Ofwat, could be made as early as Monday by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

 Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom
Image: Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom is understood to have approved Ms Ross’s appointment

The new body, which is in the process of being set up, is being seen as a key vehicle in Whitehall for the co-ordination of policy and regulation in areas of rapid technological advances.

Nevertheless, the appointment of a BT employee is likely to raise questions about how Ms Ross – and the government – will be able to address any conflicts of interest which arise from her dual roles.

As Britain’s biggest telecoms company, BT is involved in numerous projects and investments that will be impacted by developments in areas such as AI and robotics.

The creation of a new body underlines how governments are being forced to wrestle with the ethical and social implications of technologies which also promise substantial economic benefits.

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BT
Image: The appointment of a BT employee will raise questions over conflicts of interest

Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, is understood to have approved Ms Ross’s appointment to chair the RHC.

In a statement to parliament last June, the then research and innovation minister Chris Skidmore said the RHC would “advise the government on regulatory reform needed to support the rapid and safe introduction of technological innovation”.

“The council will complement and draw upon existing horizon-scanning activity across government to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future,” Mr Skidmore said.

“The council will also advise on where greater public dialogue is needed to build trust in how innovation is regulated.”

The RHC will be separate to any new regulatory body established to supervise big tech companies, which reports have suggested is also likely to be created in the coming months.

BT declined to comment on Sunday.

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