How are AI terms used in laws, regulations, regulatory guidance and policy in the EU and the UK?

The Burges Salmon AI Law, Regulation and Policy Glossary is a selection of key AI terms and their definitions (with links to sources), identifying where they are found in current and anticipated UK and EU laws, regulations, regulatory guidance and UK AI policy.

The original edition was published in January 2023. What's new? This version includes:

  •  updates reflecting the UK White Paper on AI regulation and government response in 2024 (see our navigation flowchart) and the EU AI Act as adopted by the EU Parliament in December 2024 (see our navigation flowchart), 
  • an updated position in Scottish law and guidance;
  • additional terms such as 'Foundation models', 'Generative AI', and 'Deepfake'.

This glossary is a useful guide for private companies, public organisations, regulators and legislators - in particular those working in the areas of Financial Services, Healthcare and Transport Technology - who:

  • want a reference guide to AI terms;
  • are interested in how and where terms relevant to AI are being used in law, regulation and policy; and/or
  • are preparing to comply with the various current and future regulations that will affect how they build, buy, sell and govern AI systems.

What can we learn from this?

The glossary draws out four key themes about the application of AI terms in law, regulation and policy:

  • We may not be talking the same language. Shared understanding of terms is essential when determining how and when laws and regulations apply. But whilst certain terms may be commonly used in industry they can lack or vary in legal definition and risk differing interpretations and application. There are various geographical and industry standards setting organisations working towards common AI terminologies. Those are useful and have been how shared terminology has been developed previously in other industries. However, they may vary between themselves and may not be how legislators, regulators or courts apply terms in practice.
  • That is, partly, because context matters. Definitions vary depending on the context in which they are used e.g. the type of legislation or guidance, the industry to which they relate, and the geography in which they apply. For example, the types of ‘damage’ which regulations try to protect against can vary; damage potentially caused by automated vehicles (property) is different to the types of damage AI systems can cause which other laws are typically more concerned about (e.g. the EU’s focus on fundamental rights).
  • We are still at an early stage. There is still relatively limited application of AI terms in statute, case law and regulation. This may mean those applying AI terms in practice - whether industry, courts or regulators - have to turn to other sources to try to understand what a term does (or does not) mean. That will include industry and technical definitions (which are voluminous, varied, at differing levels of maturity and which we do not include here). However, as AI regulations progress globally, we can expect further debate, guidance and clarification as to what terms mean in practice.
  • Common definitions do occur but should not be presumed. For example, a number of ‘data’ related terms are consistent in England, Wales, Scotland and in the EU as a result of the GDPR. The EU’s proposed AI laws intend toproduce a similar ‘gold standard’ of legislation, which would include seeing terms being used consistently in different jurisdictions. However, regulators may intentionally choose not to do this. For example, the EU AI Act intends to define AI with precision, whereas the UK's proposed approach to regulating AI does not define AI precisely.

Why did we choose these sources?

Those looking to build, buy or sell AI systems will be subject to various laws and regulations. They may also look to guidance which indicates how terms are understood and may be applied. Which ones apply, and the weight they should be given (if any), needs to be considered in each case. This document is not legal advice. However, we think the sources used for this glossary (listed at the end) are some that are likely to have to be considered, or are useful to compare and contrast, to help determine the meaning of a term.

Information is correct as at the first publication date of this version.

If you would like to discuss how current or future regulations impact what you do with AI, please contact Tom Whittaker, Brian Wong, David Varney, Lucy Pegler or any other member in our Technology team.

With thanks to Anusha Kasture, Marcus Jones, William Noble and Sarah Joseph.