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AI and mobility named as key challenges in Industrial Strategy

David Bicknell Published 27 November 2017

Office for AI to be created with six priority business sectors; office to work closely with recently announced GovTech Catalyst to ensure public sector can benefit from AI technologies


Putting the UK “at the forefront of the artificial intelligence (AI) and data revolution” has been announced as a key plank of the government’s Industrial Strategy which was launched today. 

The strategy, which hopes to boost the economy and build on the country’s strengths and embrace the opportunities of technological change signalled in last week’s Budget, also makes a big play for future of mobility, with the pledge that the UK will become “a world leader in the way people, goods and services move”.

It seeks to establish a flexible regulatory framework to encourage new modes of transport and new business models and wants to “prepare for a future of new mobility services, increased autonomy, journey-sharing and a blurring of the distinctions between private and public transport.”  The government has said it wants to see fully self-driving cars on the UK roads by 2021.

The strategy relies on five foundations of productivity, which the government argues are the essential attributes of every successful economy, namely ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment, and places.

Both AI and mobility are named in a series of so called ‘Grand Challenges” which also include “clean growth” and an “ageing society”. In terms of the ageing society challenges, the Industrial Strategy refers to plans to leverage health data to improve health outcomes and UK leadership in life sciences.

It says the government will be working to develop a number of regional “Digital Innovation Hubs”, which will “support the use of data for research purposes within the strict parameters set by the National Data Guardian. Health and social care are devolved but the technological challenges and benefits can be supported and seized across the UK”, the strategy says.

Specifically on AI, the strategy says, “We will put the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are general purpose technologies already starting to transform the global economy.

“They can be seen as new industries in their own right, but they are also transforming business models across many sectors as they deploy vast datasets to identify better ways of doing complex tasks – from helping doctors diagnose medical conditions more effectively to allowing people to communicate across the globe using instantaneous speech recognition and translation software.”

The strategy adds, “Embedding AI across the UK will create thousands of good quality jobs and drive economic growth. A recent study found digital technologies including AI created a net total of 80,000 new jobs annually across a population similar to the UK 20. By one estimate, AI could add £232bn to the UK economy by 2030.”

To support rapid adoption of AI technologies at scale, government plans to create an Office for AI which will work initially with six priority business sectors: cybersecurity; life sciences; construction; manufacturing; energy; and agricultural technology.

The office will work in partnership with the recently announced GovTech Catalyst to ensure the public sector can benefit from these technologies. It will also collaborate with partners to promote adoption, for example through the Digital Catapult’s ‘Machine Learning Garage’ programme launching in January.

The strategy says the UK will take an AI international leadership role by investing £9m in the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation announced in the Budget. The centre will review the existing governance landscape and advise the government on how we can enable and ensure ethical, safe and innovative uses of data, including AI. That will include engaging with industry to explore establishing data trusts to facilitate the secure sharing of data.

Key policies behind the strategy:


  • Raise total research and development (R&D) investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027
  • Increase the rate of R&D tax credit to 12 per cent
  • Invest £725m in new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund programmes to capture the value of innovation


  • Establish a new technical education system
  • Invest an additional £406m in maths, digital and technical education
  • Create a new National RetrainingScheme that supports people to re-skill, beginning with a £64m investment for digital and construction training


  • Increase National Productivity Investment Fund to £31bn, supporting investments in transport, housing and digital infrastructure
  • Boost digital infrastructure with over £1bn of public investment, including £176m for 5G and £200m for local areas to encourage rollout of full-fibre networks

Business Environment

  • Launch and roll-out Sector Deals – partnerships between government and industry aiming to increase sector productivity. First sector deals are in life sciences, construction, artificial intelligence and the automotive sector
  • Launch review of actions that could be most effective in improving the productivity and growth of small and medium-sized businesses


  • Create a new Transforming Cities fund to provide £1.7bn for intra-city transport. Intention is to fund projects that drive productivity by improving connections within city regions
  • Provide £42m to pilot a Teacher Development Premium


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