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British government takes on AI challenge with new £1 billion deal

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez April 25, 2018
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced the £1 billion AI deal in response to it’s recent Industrial Strategy.

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The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced that 50 leading technology companies and organisations have contributed to the development of an AI deal worth almost £1 billion, including almost £300m of private sector investment into UK sector.

The announcement follows the launch of the government’s Industrial Strategy, within which AI was highlighted as one of the UK’s four ‘grand challenges’. MPs also recently released a report analysing the government’s AI strategy, stating that it needed to rethink funding, procurement and infrastructure.

Other endeavours taken by the government include the establishment of the Government Office for AI, the AI Council and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation

However, this latest announcement is the biggest to come out of DCMS in terms of tangible action on AI, with a strong focus on private sector investment, both from within the UK and abroad.

The deal between government and industry, announced by Business Secretary Greg Clark and Digital Secretary Matt Hancock today, also includes more than £300 million of newly allocated government funding for AI research.

It also marks the first phase of a major investment drive in AI which aims to help the UK seize the £232 billion opportunity AI offers the UK economy by 2030 (10 percent of GDP), according to DCMS.
New investments announced as part of the deal, include:

  • Japanese venture capital firm Global Brain opening its first European HQ in the UK and investing £35 million in UK deep-tech start-ups
  • The University of Cambridge opening a new £10 million AI supercomputer and making its infrastructure available to businesses
  • Top-ranking Vancouver-based venture capital firm Chrysalix, is also going to establish a European HQ in the UK and use it to invest up to £110 million in AI and robotics
  • The Alan Turing Institute and Rolls-Royce will jointly-run research projects exploring: how data science can be applied at scale, the application of AI across supply chains, data-centric engineering and predictive maintenance, and the role of data analytics and AI in science.

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt 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.

Additional details

There are many aspects to the deal. There is also a heavy focus on skills, where it includes money for training for 8,000 specialist computer science teachers, 1,000 government-funded AI PhDs by 2025 and a commitment to develop a global Turing Fellowship programme to attract and retain the best research talent in AI to the UK.

The government claims that this will make sure every secondary school has a fully qualified computer science GCSE teacher to give the “next generation the skills they need to develop and capitalise on future technology”.

As part of the deal, the accountancy firm Sage have also committed to delivering an AI pilot  programme for 150 young people across the UK.

The Government also wants to build on its reputation as an international hub for AI innovation and is going to provide £20 million of funding to help the UK’s service industries, including law and insurance, with new pilot projects to identify how AI can transform and enhance their operations.

£21 million will also be used to support uptake of AI through businesses by transforming Tech City UK, currently London based, into Tech Nation, creating a network of high growth regional tech hubs across the country.

Antony Walker, deputy CEO, techUK said:

The UK has an impressive track-record on AI. But we must keep pace and scale of innovation continues to accelerate, we need to ensure that the UK stays at the forefront in the development and application of these powerful new technologies.

The Government’s AI Sector Deal provides a clear blueprint for how the UK can become a world-leader in innovative, responsible and ethical AI. The sector deal focuses on the key issues of maintaining leadership and driving uptake, building the skills pipeline and ethics. Success will depend upon AI companies being deeply engaged in the process.

My take

Some significant numbers in there, but let’s not forget that the EU has its own AI ambitions too. As does the US. Whether or not the UK can compete on that global stage remains to be seen. However, the right moves are being made and the key strategic pillars are being put in place.

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