The government has launched its first National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy to help seize the potential of modern technology to improve lives and solve global challenges.
AI technologies underpin the tech and apps we use on a daily basis – from helping navigate around cities and stopping online banking fraud to enabling voice recognition in smart speakers. They help clinicians improve their diagnosis of disease, are unlocking the potential for driverless cars and will deliver thousands of unforeseen benefits in everyday life.
The UK’s first AI strategy – published on the third day of London Tech Week – marks a step change in the country’s approach to the fastest growing emerging technology in the world. There are plans to launch a new national programme and approach to support research and development, publish a white paper on the governance and regulation of AI to build confidence in its use, plus moves to support organisations in every region and sector capitalise on the power of AI technologies.
The UK has a long and exceptional history in AI – from codebreaker Alan Turing’s early work through to London-based powerhouse DeepMind’s pioneering research which will enable quicker and more advanced drug discovery. The country is ranked third in the world for private venture capital investment into AI companies (2019 investment into the UK reached almost £2.5 billion) and home to a third of Europe’s total AI companies.
Alongside measures to develop the next generation of AI talent through continued support for postgraduate learning, retraining and making sure children from wide backgrounds can access specialist courses, the strategy will position the UK as a global leader in raising the standards around the use of the technology while building the case for deeper investor confidence. It includes plans to:
- Launch a National AI Research and Innovation Programme to improve coordination and collaboration between the country’s researchers and help transform the UK’s AI capabilities, while boosting business and public sector adoption of AI technologies and their ability to take them to market.
- Support the government’s levelling up agenda by launching a joint Office for AI (OAI) and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) programme aimed at continuing to develop AI in sectors based outside of London and the South East. This would focus on the commercialisation of ideas and could see, for example, the government focusing investment, researchers and developers to work in areas which currently do not use much AI technology but have great potential, such as energy and farming.
- Publish 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. The review will also consider wider needs for the commercialisation and deployment of AI, including its environmental impacts.
- Launch 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 by best supporting AI development and use through the copyright and patent system. This consultation will also include a focus on how to protect AI generated inventions which would otherwise not meet inventorship criteria as well as measures to make it easier to use copyright protected material in AI development.
- 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 and create practical tools to make sure the technology is used ethically.
The strategy comes in the week new data shows global investors poured £13.5 billion into more than 1,400 UK private technology firms between January and June this year – more than that achieved in other large tech markets Germany, France and Israel combined.
UK tech sector on course for record year of investment says Dealroom and Tech Nation
It follows government investment of more than £2.3 billion into AI since 2014, and has a ten-year vision to transform the UK’s capabilities in AI in parallel with the rapid technological expansion around the world. Its aim is to position the UK as the best place to live and work with AI, with clear rules, applied ethical principles and a pro-innovation regulatory environment.
It focuses on three pillars which include making sure the country invests in the long term growth of AI; that it benefits all sectors and regions of the economy; and that it is governed effectively by adequate rules which encourage innovation, investment and protect the public and the country’s fundamental values.
This includes measures to support skills alongside plans to support the National Centre for Computing Education to ensure programmes for children in AI are accessible and reach the widest demographic.
The government will also launch a Defence AI Strategy later this year, the new Defence AI Centre through the Ministry of Defence and begin engagement on the draft National Strategy for AI-driven technologies in Health and Social Care through the NHS AI Lab.
Founding CEO of Tech Nation Gerard Grech said: “At Tech Nation, we’re thrilled with the announcement of this new AI Strategy. AI is one of the UK’s fastest-growing tech sectors, with venture capital investment in UK AI companies currently at $3.3bn thus far in 2021, already surpassing the $3bn invested in 2020.
“Supporting and scaling the innovative tech businesses that are shaping the future of our society and economy is at the heart of our mission, which is why we are also delighted to be welcoming 32 AI scaleups onto our Applied AI 3.0 program today, focused on solutions to improve and transform key industries such as healthcare, energy and finance, for the better.”
President of techUK Jacqueline de Rojas said: “Today’s publication of the UK Government’s National AI Strategy is an opportunity to strengthen the UK’s position as a leading AI innovator.
“Setting out a clear plan to build an AI future that is inclusive and builds public trust in this transformative tech is a clear imperative and also an opportunity. Government must now focus on operationalising the strategy to ensure it supports businesses and communities across all sectors and regions to adopt and use AI”.
Director of Policy At BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, Dr Bill Mitchell OBE Said: “The new National AI Strategy gives the UK the best chance of developing a world class workforce that is inclusive and diverse and also with the skills and knowledge to ethically build and deploy AI digital systems that will benefit everyone.
“The National AI Strategy is going to be an essential component of ensuring we really do build back better, because AI will be key to figuring out how best to provide opportunities for increasing economic productivity and growth, but also improving public services to maximise their value to society.”