UK government unveils £1bn AI drive

26 April 2018 | James Pearce

The UK government has unveiled a new £1 billion deal on artificial intelligence which has received backing from 50 leading tech firms and around £300 million of private investment.

Matt Hancock 280 x 420The government said it would would plow more than £300 million into AI research in an attempt to make the UK a "research hotspot" in this sector. This will include the training of some 8,000 specialist computer science teachers.

Business secretary Greg Clark and digital secretary Matt Hancock announced the Artificial Intelligence Sector deal, saying it is a combined effort across industry and the government.

Examples include an investment from Canada’s Chrysalix, which said it plans to invest £110 million into the UK to establish a new European headquarters. Some other companies involved with the U.K.’s AI deal include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, McKinsey, and Pfizer.

As part of the deal, the Japanese venture capital firm Global Brain plans to invest about $48 million in U.K. tech startups and will open a European headquarters in the United Kingdom.

Hancock said: The UK must be at the forefront of emerging technologies, pushing boundaries and harnessing innovation to change people’s lives for the better.

"Artificial Intelligence is at the centre of our plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business. We have a great track record and are home to some of the world’s biggest names in AI like Deepmind, Swiftkey and Babylon, but there is so much more we can do.

"By boosting AI skills and data driven technologies we will make sure that we continue to build a Britain that is shaping the future."

The announcement came as Gartner forecast that artificial intelligence will generate $1.2tn worth of "business value" on a global scale in 2018, adding $3.9tn by 2022, highlighting the scale of the opportunity AI presents.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has also announced AI plans, saying on Wednesday that it will need to invest 20 billion euros ($24 billion) in AI research by 2020.

Telecoms operators are also involved. In a report on the AI sector, the UK government used BT as a case study, saying the UK incumbent is funding research at 15 leading universities across the country. It is also leading a five-year £5m partnership with the Universities of Lancaster, Cambridge, Surrey and Bristol, creating an AI powered next generation data infrastructure for the UK. It is also opening a £29 million R&D facility in Belfast to research future technologies such as AI, IoT, data analytics and 5G.

 

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

2022

Business Value

692

1,175

1,901

2,649

3,346

3,923

Growth (%)

 

70

62

39

26

17


The industry labelled the investment as encouraging. Chintan Patel, CTO at Cisco UK and Ireland, said: "Today’s investment from the government is very encouraging to see as the UK looks to cement itself as a global digital leader. The UK has enjoyed a centuries-old reputation for being at the forefront of world-changing advances, but our ability to continue on this path will be decided by how effectively we as a nation can provide the skills necessary to support a thriving digital economy.

"Consequently, the government’s pledge today for further investment into artificial intelligence research, which has a strong focus on the development of skills, is highly welcomed."

One key component of the announcement is the development of a Centre for Data Ethics, which will be established from a £9 million investment. This will look at the impact of new AI developments on jobs, safety and data privacy.

Commenting on the AI Sector Deal, Accenture Technology’s AI lead, UKI, Emma Kendrew, said: "Out of everything announced in today’s AI sector deal, one of the most significant is the Centre for Data Ethics. AI-driven operations are now becoming more common-practice. It is already being trialled across hiring processes, medical practices and even the criminal justice system. 

"As the stakes get higher, AI will have unprecedented access and impact on the ways people work and live. The technology needs to be nurtured in the same way as a child and taught the principles of good citizenship: responsibility, fairness, and transparency. It’s definitely a case of nurture over nature.

"The new Centre established today will have a vital role in making sure AI is 'raised’ and deployed responsibly. As a world-first, it will ensure that the UK stays firmly pinned on the map as a top location for global businesses to invest in their AI efforts, as well as for homegrown talent to thrive."

Topics: AI, UK, Greg Clark, Matt Hancock, artificial intelligence, Chrysalix, Microsoft, HPE, IBM