UK aims to become a global leader in AI technologies

UK aims to become a global leader in AI technologies

The United Kingdom aims to be at the forefront in the AI and data revolution and to make the UK the world’s most innovative economy. As part of its Industrial Strategy, it has set out a Grand Challenge and an investment of up to £950m to encourage the further adoption and use of AI across the UK. The goal is to enhance digital and data infrastructure, economic growth and national productivity as well as to attract AI talent, create quality jobs and greater earning power for all.

The potential of artificial intelligence (AI) is widely recognized and according to one estimate, it will add up to £232 billion to the UK economy by 2030. In 2018, UK AI companies raised a record amount of capital totaling £1bn. Overall, the UK is renowned for its leading AI development. Several noted AI companies have been founded in the UK including Deepmind, Babylon and Swiftkey – which was backed by Innovate UK. The UK is ranked as the top country for government readiness to implement AI in a recent report by Oxford Insights.

Artificial Intelligence and the Data Economy is one of the four focus areas – so called Grand Challenges – outlined by the UK government in its Industrial Strategy published in November 2017. Other Grand Challenges include Future Mobility, Clean Growth and Ageing Society. Within the AI sector, the UK intends to be the global leader in developing the technologies. 

Under the Artificial Intelligence Grand Challenge, the UK government and the AI sector have agreed a Sector Deal to advance the UK’s leading position within AI innovation and investments through immediate, tangible actions. This is the first such commitment from government and industry for the development of the technology.

The Sector Deal is based on the recommendations outlined in the review by Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti, ‘Growing the artificial intelligence industry in the UK’, which was conducted in cooperation with numerous business leaders, investors, academics and research councils.

The UK government plans to invest up to £0.95bn in the AI sector. This includes up to £603m in newly allocated funding and up to £342m from within existing budgets, alongside £250m for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. This contribution complements some of the £1.7bn announced earlier under the cross-sectoral Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, with five challenges having AI components.

Actions for AI through five foundations

The main proposals of the Hall and Pesenti review include improving the UK institutions that support AI, building a skilled workforce, and stimulating access to data. The Sector Deal focus is to be divided into the five foundations of the Industrial Strategy: ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment and places. It also compliments the government’s Digital Strategy with a focus on strengths in telecoms, data and enterprise.     

Concerning the People aspect, the focus is on improving the supply of skills and attracting the best global talent and expertise to develop and apply AI technologies in the UK by, for example, doubling Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas to 2,000 a year and enable Tier 1 immigrants to apply for settlement after three years. Another key is to work together with schools, universities and industry through actions including developing a global Truing Fellowship programme, adding 200 doctoral studentships in AI and related disciplines yearly by 2020–21 and increasing the yearly number with an aim of at least 1,000 PhD places in 2025. In addition, the government will invest £406m in skills, especially in maths, digital and technical education and fund upskilling of up to 8,000 computer science teachers as well as create a National Centre for Computing.

Infrastructure is key because physical and data infrastructure are critical to AI development. The UK is investing over £1bn to digital capabilities from 5G mobile networks to full-fibre broadband. In addition, it is working with public and private sectors on increasing data availability while tackling the challenges and accountability of sharing data.

In order to enhance the Ideas foundation and the vision of becoming the world’s most innovative economy, the government has committed to cooperate with the private sector to boost R&D spending to 2.4 per cent by 2027, and 3 per cent over the longer term. A step towards the goal is a £725m investment through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund competition, through which an innovative idea can then be developed and commercialized. One early commitment of the use of AI is the £210m Challenge on research into the early diagnosis of chronic illness with a substantial investment in AI diagnostics techniques.

The Business Environment foundation aims to make the UK the best country for starting and growing businesses. The basis is strong in the UK as there is a new business starting up every 75 seconds. There is also a significant increase in the finance available to innovation companies and AI developers through the British Business Bank and its new £2.5bn Investment Fund, as well as through venture capital programmes. The Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Venture Capital Trusts (VCTs) provide over £7bn of new funding. In September 2017, over £350m had been invested in 243 technology companies.  Moreover, the deal will establish a new AI Council to bring together academic and industry leaders with the Office for Artificial Intelligence as a supporting government delivery body, and a new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. Global promotion and actions to attract AI talent to the UK are central.

Places is the final fundamental aspect in the Industrial Strategy and aims to enhance the AI ecosystem throughout the UK. While London is the European capital of AI, there are other important clusters in the UK to support countrywide adoption of AI such as Edinburgh, Belfast, Bristol and Cambridge. Beside these clusters, the government is backing the expansion of Tech City UK and Tech North into the national network (Tech Nation) as part of the Scale Up campaign. Moreover, academic commitment to AI is supported across the UK as universities partner with The Alan Turing Institute and the National Institute for Data Science.

Mission: to enhance early diagnosis and precision medicine with AI and data

Concrete missions focused on tackling a specific problem together with government, businesses and organisations across the country are part of the Grand Challenges approach.

The mission for the Grand Challenge is to use data, AI and innovation to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases by 2030. £210 million of funding has been allocated to the mission.

The Grand Challenge aims to ensure that better use of AI and data will accelerate medical research and early diagnosis, thus improving prevention and treatment of disease. For example, within 15 years, better use of AI and data could enable early stage diagnosis of cancers for over 50,000 more people each year. This would convert to around 20,000 fewer deaths within 5 years of the diagnosis compared to today. 

 

More information: 

Gov.uk: Policy paper: Introduction to Sector Deals – Artificial Intelligence

Gov.uk: Policy paper – The Grand Challenges

Gov.uk: Industrial Strategy – Artificial Intelligence Sector Deal

Gov.uk: Policy paper: The Grand Challenge missions – Mission: Use data, Artificial Intelligence and innovation to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases by 2030

UK Research and Innovation: From data to early diagnosis and precision medicine

Tech Nation: VC investment in UK Artificial Intelligence startups increases almost six-fold in five years