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UK Gov puffs out chest with £1bn AI deal

artificial intelligence, communication and futuristic

The UK government has announced the development of a £1 billion deal to put the nation at the ‘forefront’ of the artificial intelligence industry, which has been backed by 50 tech firms.

The move includes £300 million of newly allocated government funding for AI research, and is the most tangible action to come out of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which to date has done little more than flap around and visit museums. Other government initiatives have included the development of Government Office for AI, the AI Council and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, but in terms of actual progress, crickets can be heard. We were hoping someone might prove this wasn’t an episode of ‘The Thick of It’.

“The UK must be at the forefront of emerging technologies, pushing boundaries and harnessing innovation to change people’s lives for the better,” said Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock.

“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 initiative itself has a strong focus on private sector investment, fuelling the drive to secure a slice of the £232 billion opportunity AI offers the UK economy by 2030, which DCMS believes will be 10% of GDP. New investments include Japanese VC Global Brain opening its first European HQ in the UK and investing £35 million in UK start-ups, the University of Cambridge opening a new £10 million AI supercomputer and making its infrastructure available to businesses and also Vancouver-based VC Chrysalix, opening an office in the UK and investing £110 million in AI and robotics.

Aside from new cash flowing into the UK, the initiative will also open a Centre for Data Ethics to ensure all AI developments in Britain are conducted to the highest ethical standards. For Emma Kendrew at Accenture, this was the most important aspect of the announcement.

“Out of everything announced in today’s AI sector deal, one of the most significant is the Centre for Data Ethics,” said Kendrew. “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.”

Another important prong of the initiative will be the creation of Data Trusts between government, industry and academia to ensure data sharing is safe and secure. The development of AI is only as good as the raw material which fuels the machine; without data, the development of AI in the UK will be non-existent. The development of a mechanism which ensures the ethical flow of data between organizations is key, especially as data practises of some of the world’s most influential organizations is under the spot-light.

The UK government has long preached about the importance of being relevant in the digital community, and investment is only way to achieve this. So far we have seen very few actual commitments from the government. This looks to be a promising step forward, but let’s hope Hancock and his cronies actually follow up with the cash. The last thing we need is another lump sum of imaginary funds to sit alongside the same digital investments which have been promised in countless budgets.

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