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AI Expo 2018: UK’s AI strategy “lags behind South Korea, Canada and Germany’s”

The UK’s AI strategy lags behind South Korea, Canada and Germany’s, the chair of the Lords’ select committee on AI – Tim Clement-Jones – has warned.

Speaking at AI Expo on Wednesday, two days after his committee published a 181 page report on the state of UK AI, Lord Clement-Jones said that while government policy is moving in the right direction, there is significant work still to be done.

“We need a proper national framework,” he said. “We compared ourselves with South Korea, with Canada, with Germany and we felt that in many ways that our strategy wasn’t nearly as joined up as theirs.”

Over the last few months, government policy has increasingly referenced AI, with the launch of an AI sector deal, AI grand challenge, Centre for Data Ethics and Government Office for AI. But the committee’s report warns that the government lacks a coherent national policy framework that works “in lockstep” with its industrial strategy.

Lord Clement-Jones suggested that developing an AI strategy as strong as Germany, Canada and South Korea’s would be critical to the future of the UK economy. “This is highly competitive not least because of all the private sector investment taking place in the States and all the public sector investment taking place in China.”

Targeted government procurement in the AI field and boosting startups’ access to capital should, Lord Clement-Jones suggested, be key parts of the framework. “We want to make sure that our companies aren’t forced to sell out to Silicon Valley or the tech majors when they reach sufficient scale.”

In addition, the report calls for the Competition and Markets Authority to launch an investigation into the use of data by tech giants operating in Britain. While it welcomes investments from overseas tech firms, it warns that their “increasing consolidation of power and influence” risks damaging the UK’s AI startup sector.

The report sets out five principles to guide people working in the sector. AI should be for the common good and benefit of humanity, operate on principles of intelligibility and fairness and not diminish people’s data rights, it says. Citizens should be educated so they can flourish alongside AI, and the technology should never be trusted with the power to “hurt, destroy or deceived human beings”, it adds.

The government is expected to respond to the report within the next two months.