UK Dreams of Glory With 10-Year National AI Strategy

“The UK already punches above its weight internationally and we are ranked third in the world behind the US and China in the list of top countries for AI.”

There’s no harm in being ambitious and the UK has launched its first National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy as it seeks to be a “global science superpower”.

Unveiled today (22 September) at London Tech Week, the government is looking to seize the potential of modern technology to improve people’s lives and solve global challenges such as climate change and public health.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Minister Chris Philp states: “The UK already punches above its weight internationally and we are ranked third in the world behind the US and China in the list of top countries for AI.”

The nation is also home to a third of Europe’s total AI companies.

Founding CEO of Tech Nation Gerard Grech adds: “AI is one of the UK’s fastest-growing tech sectors, with venture capital investment in UK AI companies currently at $3.3 billion [£2.4 billion] thus far in 2021, already surpassing the $3 billion [£2.2 billion] invested in 2020.”

In terms of the overall plan, there are some specifics on hand.

For example, there will be access to specialist courses for children; and the launch of a National AI Research and Innovation Programme to improve coordination and collaboration between the country’s researchers.

In addition, a joint Office for AI (OAI) and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) programme will be established to develop AI in sectors based outside of London and the South East. This would focus on the commercialisation of ideas.

There will be publication of a joint review with UKRI into the availability and capacity of computing power for UK researchers and organisations, including the physical hardware needed to drive a major roll-out in AI technologies.

Finally, there will be a consultation on copyright and patents for AI through the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to make sure the UK is capitalising on the ideas it generates; and trialing an AI Standards Hub to coordinate UK engagement in setting the rules globally, and working with The Alan Turing Institute to update guidance on AI ethics and safety in the public sector.

According to the government, this strategy follows its investment of more than £2.3 billion into AI since 2014. For instance, there was investment into the Alan Turing Institute and over £46 million to support the Turing AI Fellowships to develop the next generation of AI talent.

There are a lot of views in the tech industry about the government’s plan. Here’s one of them.

Niels Thoné, CEO and founder, Sprout.ai, comments: “There is still a lot of fear surrounding AI in society, and we need to flip the narrative. Used properly, AI should relieve the burden of admin-based tasks, so we can focus on what makes us uniquely human.”

Thoné feels the strategy “rightly recognises the need to tighten the regulation of the AI industry, that currently has fewer rules than the Wild West!”

He concludes: “The AI Standards Hub is a start, but more needs to be done, such as requiring organisations to appoint an Ethical AI Lead (or similar).

“The government could also consider granting certifications to companies that are using AI, similar to an ISO. This would help tech startups that meet certain standards to secure the trust of big enterprises looking to deploy AI technologies. The most significant and impactful move the government could make to establish the UK as a world leader in AI, would be to become a buyer of AI itself as well as give tax credits to organisations or enterprises that buy AI from above-mentioned government certified AI vendors.”

In other positive news this week, tech investment in the UK bounced back from COVID-19 in the first half of 2021 to achieve a record-breaking year of £13.5 billion.

On top of that, last week the UK Office for Investment revealed that the UAE has committed £10 billion investment into the nation’s technology, infrastructure and energy transition sectors.

Antony Peyton
Antony Peyton is the Editor of eWeek UK and has 17 years' journalism and writing experience. His career has taken him to China, Japan and the UK - covering tech, fintech and business. Follow on Twitter @TonyFintech.

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