Artificial intelligence (AI) will have a profound effect on nearly every aspect of business and society in the not so distant future. The implications of this technology are yet to be fully understood by industry leaders and policymakers alike. Even academics are struggling to achieve a consensus on its economic impact. But what we can be sure of is that if the UK is to continue to prosper, it will need to play a leading role in this movement. It is vital that the UK carves out a place in the global AI landscape and establishes itself as a destination for the disruptive deep tech businesses of tomorrow, alongside the dominant tech forces of the US and China.
There is a unique role for the UK to play within the global field of AI, one that avoids having to compete with the world’s data giants and complements Britain’s existing tech ecosystem. The UK can secure a position between the US and China, as a progressive regulator and home to the brightest and best minds, utilising vast quantities of foreign data to create commercially scalable applications and helping to build a global hub for AI firms.
Data is the driving force in the development of AI technologies and an area where the UK is at a distinct disadvantage in terms of size and scale. Silicon Valley is home to some of the world’s largest technology businesses, the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, and on the other side of the world, China, in a relatively short amount of time has created its own tech titans, many in the Pearl River Delta, including Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. All have access to an exceptional breadth of data from which to test, implement and prove concepts in artificial intelligence technologies.
The UK undoubtedly has the academic prowess, highly skilled workforce and infrastructure to draw a share and become a leading destination for AI innovation. There are exceptional UK businesses such as DeepMind (acquired by Google), Improbable and BenevolentAI that represent the strength and innovation of British firms.
Yet there are key steps that need to be taken to help ensure that the regulatory space and availability of investment are ahead of the curve so that the UK can exploit its wealth of world-leading entrepreneurs and innovators.
London has proven that it can compete on a global scale and become a significant tech hub in other verticals. As the home to global Fintech, the UK is the destination for ambitious and disruptive businesses looking to create, scale and sell the companies that are reinventing the financial services industry. In 2017 the UK saw record-levels of investment in the Fintech sector and high confidence continues to suggest that the coming years will only build on these successes.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has been central to the growth in UK Fintech, helping to signpost Britain as progressive and flexible on a regulatory front and acting as a responsible facilitator for innovation. The willingness to embrace contemporary technology and derive regulation accordingly has made the FCA a model for international bodies and received praise from governments across the world.
There is a role for key policy makers to now play in securing a similar prosperity for deep tech businesses through continued investment in the sector and by showing a similar, progressive approach to regulation. Both the US and China have to date limited their ability to trade in data services and have used regulation to the detriment of global AI development. The UK can act as an international regulatory space for businesses to build AI technologies that will define the future and operate as a hub from which to trade from, both facilitating growth and adding assurances to global partners when building programs from foreign data.
Britain has an international reputation for its academic excellence and producing ground-breaking research, and we can leverage these strengths to realise the sector’s full potential.
We must ensure that the necessary research institutions at the forefront of this technology receive the funding to produce home-grown talent which will drive the UK sector forwards. The UK will be the supplier to fill the global skills shortage in deep tech and combined with the data provided by foreign businesses, the UK can further strengthen its position in the sector but we must remain open to foreign talent.
The coming AI revolution is bringing a high degree of uncertainty relating to its impact economically and socially, but it is of vital importance that the UK secures position in the world as a leading hub of deep tech innovators.
The UK can carve out a unique position alongside the US and China as a world-leading centre of excellence where global businesses can come to work with the most skilled talent and effective regulation can inspire trust and confidence for both local and foreign data providers.