Members’ Conference 2023: Policy, Regulation and AI

18th December 2023

The latest Members’ Conference had a great line-up, with in-person keynotes from a variety of speakers, including a government minister and an internationally renowned Oxford academic. We appreciated participation from other registries who shared their insights with members, alongside the Nominet team. Perhaps unsurprisingly, AI was the overarching theme. 

To kick-start the conference, members heard first-hand from Paul Fletcher about Nominet’s focus on our core registry business, including securing the contract and ongoing work to modernise our technology platforms. We were also pleased to share that the Nominet funded programme to donate micro:bits to every primary school in the UK has already reached over 19,000 schools. 

We hold members’ conferences to share the latest company and industry insights, socialise, reinforce relationships, and forge new ones. This year’s conference was our third conference post-pandemic, and it was great to connect with everyone once again. 

This year, we held our annual conference at the renowned Royal Institution of Great Britain in London: an incredible venue that’s steeped in history. Coincidentally, the Royal Institution’s Christmas lectures this year will be centred around AI, mirroring one of the day’s key themes.  

The conference brought together around 60 members and guests representing different business areas across the domain name industry and facilitated some brilliant face-to-face conversations.  

Here are some of the highlights. 

Making the UK internet more secure and resilient 

We were honoured to be joined by Saqib Bhatti MP, the new Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy, who provided insights from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT). He took time out of his busy schedule to attend, demonstrating how much he valued the opportunity to talk with key internet stakeholders. 

During his keynote, the minister referred to himself as the ‘Minister of the Internet’ and outlined key policies relating to the domain industry, from tackling registry abuse, to meeting international best practice and governance for top-level domains. He also expressed his gratitude to Nominet for stewarding .UK, enabling the public to access vital services. 

Crucially, he noted that the upcoming EU directive, NIS2, will be at the heart of the UK’s approach to improve cyber resilience across essential services. He also discussed key legislation including the Online Safety Act and emphasised the importance of partnering with the private sector. 

How AI can influence policy and decision-making 

Professor Helen Margetts, a world leading academic at the Oxford Internet Institute, gave a talk on AI in public policy. Her keynote demonstrated the importance of academic thought leadership informing global governance for the internet. 

Helen discussed how the public’s perception of AI has changed massively in recent years, thanks to improved machine learning, greater investment into AI, and broader use cases. She also explained the Alan Turing Institute’s role in helping the public sector maximise AI’s potential for public benefit, while managing the possible risks. 

Finally, Helen explored issues surrounding AI, ethics and governance. For example, the potential for bias in facial recognition technologies and how this impacts decision-making. She concluded that understanding AI and social policy requires a multi-faceted approach, which considers how AI impacts society from both a social and a technological perspective. 

AI opportunities and risks for the registry industry 

An excellent panel of registries from around the world shared their insights into how AI can be used as a tool for innovation and explored some of the risks. Oli Tweedie, our CTO, explained how we use traditional AI approaches for our Domain Watch service. He also discussed the impact of AI from a security perspective as an operator of critical national infrastructure. 

Janis Kasper from IONOS shared how the company is exploring machine learning as a tool to improve the customer journey from a product perspective, while Thijs van den Hout discussed how SIDN Labs leverages AI for its RegCheck system. Meanwhile, Timo Võhmar from the Estonian Internet Foundation discussed the opportunities and challenges associated with using AI in a smaller registry team. 

Neil Ross, Deputy Director of Policy at TechUK, presented a talk on AI regulation and the digital economy. He discussed how AI can be used to transform public services, such as the NHS. Neil also explored some of the UK’s biggest tech opportunities, from AI and quantum tech to sector specific technologies, as well as enhancing the UK’s overall competitiveness. 

Policy, public affairs and the domain name industry 

From the Nominet team, Nick Wenban-Smith, Dr Bill Mitchell OBE, and Elaine Quinn covered policy and public affairs and shared their insights on the current political and regulatory landscape for .UK. 

Bill explained how government policy is created and informed – and why Nominet has an interest in shaping policy related to the development of the internet. As a public benefit company, we want the internet to improve people’s lives and benefit society, so we build trusted relationships with politicians and the civil service, as well as thinktanks, charities, and regulators. This allows us to share independent, apolitical, objective advice – while our philanthropic work helps us give back to the community. 

From a regulatory perspective, Nick discussed how we interact with relevant bodies like ICANN to advise on issues related to the UK internet. One example of this is NIS2, an upcoming EU directive which has significant implications for the domain name industry. Nick went on to explain how our role as members of CENTR and other organisations allows us to lobby, contribute to consultations, and speak directly to officials to ensure our voice is heard and .UK runs smoothly. 

EPP standardisation across .UK 

This session included a presentation focused on our approach to EPP standardisation and our proposed plan to simplify our existing platform for registrars. As part of our modernisation programme, we will be moving .UK to our new platform while retaining the features our customers value most. We’ll be sharing more detailed proposals and seeking members’ input on these in the New Year. 

Following a busy day of talks and panels, we were delighted to be able to keep the conversation going with members who could join us for dinner. Thank you to all those who attended and made the day (and evening) so successful. We look forward to holding further member events and conferences in 2024. 

A recording of the conference is now available on the Member Hub.