NS Tech

The UK government has put AI at the heart of its new industrial strategy

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at The India-UK Tech Summit in New Delhi on November 7, 2016. Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain would become the ultimate free trade champion as she laid the groundwork for a potential post-Brexit deal with India, the world's fastest growing major economy.. / AFP / PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

The government has put AI at the heart of its industrial strategy white paper, in a bid to boost British productivity and position the UK at the forefront of new industry.

Theresa May described the technology as one of the “big opportunities of our time” and claimed the government’s economic plan would support cutting-edge businesses.

“[The strategy] will help create the conditions where successful businesses can emerge and grow, and support these businesses in seizing the big opportunities of our time, such as artificial intelligence and big data,” she said.

“[It will] also making sure our young people have the skills to take on the high-paid, high-skilled jobs this creates.”

AI is the focus of one of the white paper’s four “sector deals” aimed at connecting industry with government to “boost productivity, employment, innovation and skills”.

It is also the subject of one of the new “grand challenges” designed to place the UK at the forefront of global trends that will “shape our rapidly changing future”.

Businesses, academics and members of the public are invited to work with the government to develop new technologies as part of the challenges.

The publication of the industrial strategy comes just days after the government pledged £75m for AI in last week’s budget. It also trails the review of the UK’s AI strategy last month.

Benevolent AI’s Jerome Pesenti and Southampton University’s Wendy Hall, the authors of the AI review, called on ministers to develop new industry-funded masters and open up public data.

The government has heeded that advice, pledging to create industry funded masters, AI fellowships, a geospatial data commission and a new data ethics and innovation body.

Antony Walker, deputy CEO of tech trade body TechUK, said the organisation “strongly welcomes” the new sector deal for AI: “The commitment to opening up UK data to make us the best understood economy in the world is truly transformational.”

But he warned that “there is still plenty to do”, including supporting the millions of small businesses not yet taking advantage of basic tech.

“Companies can’t take advantage of AI until they have built their basic digital foundations – we would like to see a digital readiness index to measure progress in building these foundations.

“However, this White Paper shows a clear commitment from Government to prepare for and embrace the future.  Given the challenges that lie ahead for the UK economy post-Brexit, there is a clear need to commit to the long-term. This White Paper is a great start.”