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In this episode, Jason talks to Marcus Grazette, Public Policy Leader at Holistic AI. Together they discuss the societal impact of technology and how to put guardrails in place to ensure it is a positive one.

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One big message

Establishing effective guardrails is crucial for protecting consumers and promoting innovation in the rapidly changing technological landscape. Policymakers must strike a balance between promoting innovation and protecting individuals, particularly in terms of transparency and equity.

01:03 Marcus’ background in public policy research and how he came from working on foreign policy to working at Holistic AI

02:58 How data protection regulation and business innovation overlap

06:51 Exploring the need for policies and standards in data-driven technologies

11:01 Having standards which are rigid like checklists vs. having more flexible guidelines

16:50 Who are the key players in defining these kinds of regulations and failsafes

19:32 The challenges that come with the rapidly evolving pace of technology

21:33 How regulations are tested and reiterated

26:33 How guardrails can keep up with technology

33:09 The impact of guardrails on citizens



The purpose of guardrails in data policy 

When bringing a product to market, guardrails can provide guidance and support. They can help establish standards, certifications, and regulations that create trust and confidence in the product, making it more likely to succeed in the marketplace.

One of the key drivers of this process is creating markets. In order to establish consumer confidence in a product, it’s important to provide some kind of certification or standard that can be trusted. This is often achieved by obtaining regulatory approvals or certifications from trusted organisations. For example, in the food industry, there are well-established criteria for food safety that must be met in order to sell products to consumers. When a restaurant displays a safety certificate, customers can trust that their health and safety are being prioritised.

The second driver is setting the standard for what ‘good’ looks like. This can be more challenging in some industries, especially those that are more innovative and data-driven. It’s crucial to find a balance between creating standards that can be implemented and avoiding rigid checklists. In data-driven products, for example, it may be difficult to establish clear criteria for quality, as the technology and standards may be rapidly evolving. Instead, principles based on risk are often used, with a focus on identifying potential vulnerabilities and minimising risk.


How guardrails affect different industries

Guardrails, such as regulations and standards, can have different effects on different industries depending on their specific needs and challenges. For example, GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a horizontal regulation that affects all industries similarly, as it applies to any entity that processes personal data of EU citizens. However, in healthcare, there are many verticals that have specific regulations and standards that are unique to the industry.

The NHRA (National Health Reform Agreement) is an example of a regulatory framework that is specific to the healthcare industry. The agreement covers areas such as medical devices, medicines, and clinical safety and quality, which are all critical to patient care. In healthcare, guardrails can be particularly important as they can help ensure patient safety, protect personal information, and promote fair and ethical practices.

In industries where innovation and the use of data are central, guardrails may need to be adaptable and flexible to keep up with new technologies and trends. For example, in data-driven industries, such as technology and finance, there may be a need for guardrails to be more focused on risk management, and to be able to adapt quickly to new threats and vulnerabilities.

In some cases, guardrails may also be put in place to prevent certain activities, such as social scoring, which involves using data to score individuals based on their behaviour or personal attributes. This can be seen as a potential invasion of privacy, and in some cases, may be prohibited by law.


Self-regulatory policies vs. government standard policies

Self-regulatory policies and government standard policies are two different approaches to establishing guardrails for businesses and industries. Self-regulatory policies rely on industry groups and businesses to set and enforce their own standards, while government standard policies establish regulatory requirements that are enforced by government agencies.

An example of a self-regulatory policy is the advertising industry’s self-regulatory program, which allows the market to dictate whether or not advertising meets certain standards. This approach is designed to give businesses flexibility to innovate while still ensuring that consumer interests are protected. The industry sets its own standards, which are enforced by an independent third-party organisation. This approach can be effective when businesses are motivated to establish and maintain trust with their customers.

On the other hand, government standard policies establish regulatory requirements that are enforced by government agencies. These policies may be necessary when businesses have incentives to cut corners or engage in practices that are not in the best interest of consumers. For example, in the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is a government agency that provides guidance and enforces data protection regulations. The guidance sets out what businesses must do, as well as what they can do as best practices. Government policies often provide clear and enforceable rules, although they may be less flexible than self-regulatory policies.

In both cases, court challenges can help regulators determine how standards and regulations should be interpreted. For example, if a business disputes a regulator’s interpretation of a rule, the court can provide guidance on what the rule means and how it should be enforced.


How policymakers keep up with innovation

In today’s rapidly changing technological landscape, policymakers face the challenge of keeping up with new innovations and finding ways to regulate them in a way that protects consumers while allowing businesses to innovate and grow. To address this challenge, policymakers have developed a number of strategies to help them stay informed and engaged with the latest developments in the tech industry.

One approach that has gained popularity in recent years is the use of regulatory sandboxes. A regulatory sandbox is a controlled environment in which businesses can test new technologies or business models in a safe and supervised way. The sandbox allows businesses to experiment with new ideas without having to comply with all of the regulatory requirements that apply to fully established businesses. Regulators can work closely with businesses in the sandbox to ensure that they are following best practices and meeting the needs of consumers. This approach allows regulators to stay informed about new innovations and emerging risks, while also giving businesses the flexibility they need to innovate.

Another approach is the use of “circuit breakers” in the form of the courts. Circuit breakers are designed to prevent businesses from getting around rules by imposing penalties when rules are broken. This approach is intended to provide an additional level of protection for consumers by making it more difficult for businesses to engage in risky or harmful practices. Courts can also provide guidance on how regulations should be interpreted and enforced, which can help regulators stay up-to-date with changes in the industry.


How it affects citizens

The guardrails established by policymakers can have a significant impact on citizens, both in terms of how their personal data is used and how they interact with businesses and institutions. As such, it is important to consider the impact on individuals when designing and enforcing guardrails.

One key consideration is transparency. Citizens should have a clear understanding of how their personal data is being used and what the potential impact on them may be. In the past, businesses and institutions have often relied on vague or unclear language to communicate their data practices to consumers, leaving them uncertain about how their data is being used. However, new regulations such as GDPR have emphasised the importance of clear and transparent communication with users. This approach can help build trust between businesses and individuals, as well as empowering individuals to make informed choices about their data.

Another consideration is the impact on society as a whole. While individuals may be able to take steps to protect their own data, larger-scale changes often require action from higher powers. For example, policies that govern the use of AI and automation could have significant implications for the future of work and the economy. As such, it is important that policymakers take a proactive role in addressing these issues, and consider the broader social impact of their decisions.

In addition, it is important to recognize that guardrails can have differential impacts on different groups of citizens. For example, low-income individuals and marginalised groups may be more vulnerable to exploitation or discrimination in certain contexts. Policymakers must be mindful of these issues and design guardrails that are inclusive and equitable.



In today’s rapidly changing technological landscape, guardrails are crucial for protecting consumers and promoting innovation. Policymakers have developed a range of strategies for establishing guardrails, including self-regulatory policies, government standard policies, regulatory sandboxes, and circuit breakers. These approaches are designed to help policymakers keep up with innovation while also ensuring that citizens are protected from potential risks. 

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