Cafeteria table with view of the docks.

UK authorities consider position of AI in preparation for a new Golden Age of Tech

Published on 09 June 2021

The question: What direction is the UK taking regarding policies on artificial intelligence (AI)?

Key takeaway

The AI Council and Office for AI have begun engaging with the AI ecosystem on the AI Council’s Roadmap. This collaboration will continue with a view to shaping the National AI Strategy. Stakeholders are encouraged to engage in the development process to remain abreast of the Government’s intended approach.

The background

At the end 2020, the House of Lords Liaison Committee published its follow-up report “AI in the UK: No Room for Complacency“, which examined the progress made by the Government in relation to the recommendations set out in the Select Committee’s 2018 report “AI in the UK:  ready, willing and able?“. The Committee concluded generally that ethical AI would be the only sustainable way forward and that the government would need to therefore better coordinate its AI policy and the use of data and technology at both a national and regional level. Other more specific recommendations made by the report included:

  • the government to take active steps to explain to the general public the use of their personal data by AI
  • the government to take immediate steps to appoint a Chief Data Officer
  • the government to ensure that the digital skills of the UK are brought up to speed (reflecting the concern that around 10% of UK adults were non-internet literate in 2018), as well as ensuring that individuals are given the opportunity to reskill and retrain to operate within the evolving labour market caused by AI
  • the AI Council to identify those industries most at risk of becoming redundant due to AI, and the skills gaps in those industries. The government should then look to implement a national training scheme, designed to support people to work alongside AI and automation, and to maximise its potential.

The AI Council published its AI Roadmap in January 2021, claiming that AI has the potential to deliver a 10% increase in UK GDP in 2030 and setting out sixteen recommendations designed to assist the government in developing a national AI strategy. There are two underlying messages that can be taken from the report, the first being that the UK needs to “double down” on the recent investments made in AI, and the second being that the UK must prepare for the future by being forward looking and prepared to adapt to disruption caused by AI. EU Member States have produced similar documents in the past with commentators noting that such programme announcements have been partnered by notable financial investments from national governments (eg France and Germany setting aside a combined approx. €4.5bn). The Roadmap has been criticised for failing to put real meat on what are bare bones recommendations (aside from positioning of The Alan Turing Institute at the centre of national AI activities), giving the government significant commitment flexibility, although this is perhaps unsurprising in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The development

Last month, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden announced that the government would be unveiling a new national strategy designed to “unleash the transformational power of Artificial Intelligence” and to make the UK a “global centre for the development, commercialisation and adoption of responsible AI”. The outline of this strategy is set out in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS)’s Ten Tech  Priorities.

Why is this important?

The Ten Tech Priorities clearly identify the government’s priorities going forward, namely that the strategy will focus on growth of the UK economy through widespread us of AI tech, an intention to develop AI in an ethical way and, finally, the need to exercise resilience in the face of inevitable disruption. The Priorities also appear to add some firm figures to what was previously a fairly high-level governmental strategy – eg by committing the government to £5bn worth of spending to ensure that homes and businesses nationwide benefit from gigabit broadband and an investment of £520m in a Help-to-Grow scheme designed to empower up to 100,000 businesses to adopt the latest tech.

Any practical tips?

The AI Council will be working together with the DCMS and Office of AI to arrange workshops during 2021 and shareholders are invited to engage on these topics and to assist in the development of an “ambitious, multiyear AI Strategy”. Given the significance of the impact of this Strategy on tech companies operating within the UK and the potential opportunities that may spring from it, this is certainly a space worth watching and engaging with.