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Government digital strategy set to include boost for AI sector

David Bicknell Published 27 February 2017

Strategy, predicted to debut this week after months of delay, is expected to offer strong government support for a sector predicted to add £654bn to UK economy by 2035


The government is expected to this week announce increased support for Britain’s artificial intelligence (AI) sector as part of a strategy to deliver a thriving digital economy.

The AI support is understood to be part of the long awaited digital strategy, which is now expected to be unveiled on Wednesday by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley. A Government Transformation Strategy was announced a couple of weeks ago.

The government has jumped on the results of research by Accenture, which believes the development of artificial intelligence could add an additional £654bn to the UK economy by 2035, by announcing £17m of new funding for universities to keep Britain at the forefront of pioneering Robotics and AI research (RAI).

The digital strategy - which may be announced towards the middle of this week - is expected to follow on from recently launched Industrial Strategy which set out to capitalise on Britain’s existing strengths and back new technologies where the UK can take a lead.

The government will say Britain already has a competitive advantage in AI with some of the world’s most innovative AI companies already based in the UK, supported by an ecosystem of investors, employers, developers and clients. It is a fast-growing area for research and commercial investment, including by major global digital companies.

The government argues that AI is already making a positive difference on people’s lives, with usage encompassing more obvious uses such as smartphone voice and touch recognition technology and virtual digital assistants such as Siri.  It also includes less well-known benefits such as online customer services, which make it easier to get help when things go wrong, AI is also being used in fraud detection tools used by banks to protect against theft.

The digital strategy’s proposals encompassing AI are expected to include:

  • An AI review led by Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti to identify the critical elements for the technology to thrive and grow in the UK. It will consider how government and industry could work together to back this technology.
  • A funding boost of £17.3m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to support the development of new Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI) technologies in universities across the UK.

The moves are part of the strategy’s ambition for the UK to build on areas of strength and develop a global lead in technologies, including cyber security, connected and smart devices, autonomous vehicles, as well as AI.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said, “Britain has a proud history of digital innovation - from the earliest days of computing to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s development of the World Wide Web.

“We are already pioneers in today’s artificial intelligence revolution and the Digital Strategy will build on our strengths to make sure UK-based scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs continue to be at the forefront.

“Technologies like AI have the potential to transform how we live, work, travel and learn, and I am pleased that Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti will be leading this review. It’s great that government and industry will be working together to drive growth in the sector, to realise all the economic and social benefits for the UK.”

Business Secretary Greg Clark said, ”Investment in robotics and artificial intelligence will help make our economy more competitive, build on our world-leading reputation in these cutting-edge sectors and help us create new products, develop more innovative services and establish better ways of doing business.”

“Innovation is at the heart of our Industrial Strategy and the launch of the government’s Digital Strategy underlines our commitment to this vital sector. By supporting British businesses and investing in dynamic fields such as robotics and AI, we will help put the UK at the forefront of global innovation.”

Dame Wendy Hall, the Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, said, “Our scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the development of artificial intelligence and I’m looking forward to exploring how industry and government can work together to support the technology in the UK."

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