[ Features ]

Author: Stuart Rock
Written on: 03 January 2018
Last updated: 10 May 2018


Regulation, technology

How the UK can stay ahead in AI

The Government’s Industrial Strategy sets four “Grand Challenges,” identified after consultation with science and industry. The Grand Challenges have been set “to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future" - and one is in artificial intelligence - which right now the UK is seen as a primary centre of expertise. So, how to keep us there?

The UK is “already a world leader," says the Government's Industrial Strategy document, "with the building blocks to make significant advances. We have some of the best research institutions in the world and globally-recognised capability in AI-related disciplines, including maths, computer science, ethics and linguistics. We have substantial datasets in public institutions where AI can be explored safely and securely.” The Industrial Strategy also points to British “underpinning technologies” such as ARM’s chip design to Raspberry Pi microcomputers, as well as innovation in robotics and the Internet of Things.

In April, a Sector Deal was announced, building on Wendy Hall and Jerome Pesenti's Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK and its recommendations on how Government, industry and academia should work together to keep the UK among the world leaders in AI. According to the Government, it "aims to attract and retain both domestic and global AI talent; deliver major upgrades to our digital and data infrastructure; ensure that the UK is the best place to start and grow an AI business; and contribute to communities’ prosperity by spreading the benefits of AI across the country."

In education, the Alan Turing Institute “will become the national research centre for AI, supporting new Turing Fellowships.” The Government say that it will invest £45m to support additional PhDs in AI and related disciplines, increasing numbers by at least 200 extra places a year by 2020-21.”

This emphasis on additional funding for more PhDs and to build up university research faculties is massively important, given the voracious appetite of the tech giants and their poaching of British-based AI brainpower. The scale of Chinese and US investment in AI can't be matched by the UK, either. But a well-funded, diverse, open and interdisciplinary environment can help keep the UK punching well above its weight.

A clutch of new bodies, including an industry-led AI Council and a government Office for AI, will “champion research and innovation, stimulate demand and accelerate uptake across all sectors of the economy.” The Office for AI will work initially with six priority business sectors: cybersecurity; life sciences; construction; manufacturing; energy; and agricultural technology. A new GovTech Catalyst intends to ensure the public sector benefits from these technologies.

The Industrial Strategy also sets out a wider role in which the UK can be a world leader - in the “safe and ethical use of data and artificial intelligence, giving confidence and clarity to citizens and business.” A new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is to be established - a “world-first advisory body” which will review the existing governance landscape and advise the government on how to enable and ensure ethical, safe and innovative uses of data, including AI. (But there are sceptics.)

The UK has a unique position in terms of the history of development of AI, observe Wendy Hall and Jerome Pesenti in their influential report, Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK.

“Public support has been highly effective in the past in enabling the UK to make advances in AI.”

For all the fearful stories, there will be upsides to embedding AI across the UK. The Industrial Strategy paper argues that it will create thousands of good quality jobs and drive economic growth. “A recent study found digital technologies including AI created a net total of 80,000 new jobs annually across a population similar to the UK. By one estimate, AI could add £232bn to the UK economy by 2030.”

Along with Hall and Pesenti's influential report, a slew of heavyweight documents into the UK's approach to AI have been published.

There is the Royal Society's reports on machine learning and on data management and governance. There's also the Made Smarter review of industrial digitalisation.


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