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The official review of the UK’s AI strategy includes a radical plan to level the playing field for startups and big tech firms

AI could revolutionise healthcare, pave the way for self-driving cars and unlock hundreds of billions of pounds for the UK economy, but only if ministers make strategic investments in research, skills and access to data.

That’s the conclusion of an official review of the government’s AI strategy written by BenevolentTech’s Jérôme Pesenti and Southampton University’s Professor Wendy Hall.

“Data is the crucial currency,” Pesenti tells NS Tech. “But there’s a problem; it’s locked up. There are big players who have disproportionate access to data and there are places like government that have access but are having a hard time making it available to stimulate an industry around it.”

The playing field can be levelled, Pesenti says, by forming a new organisation staffed by 15-25 experts who create data trusts for the sharing of publicly-owned information with researchers and industry. The agreements would feature frameworks to ensure the exchange of datasets is mutually beneficial.

One such dataset, Pesenti suggests, could be created by adding sensors to every bus in London. The data would be harvested in a bid to build self-driving minibuses.

“We must make the UK one of the best places to access data”, Pesenti says. “It would have a tremendous effect.”

Another of the headline recommendations is the creation of industry-funded masters, PhD and conversion courses. “We spoke to over a hundred people and every single person raised the challenge of skills,” says Penti. By asking firms to fund AI courses, the authors say universities could increase capacity.

“We recommend in the first year the creation of three hundred places on masters courses funded by industry,” he says. “The number would eventually rise to a thousand.”

Penti is confident that by increasing capacity for AI training in the UK, the country will become more attractive to major tech firms looking to invest overseas.

The report, which makes a total of 18 recommendations to government, has been welcomed by ministers.

Culture secretary Karen Bradley said she wants the UK to lead the way in artificial intelligence: “The challenge now is to build a strong partnership with industry and academia to cement our position as the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business.”

Business Secretary Greg Clark said the review demonstrates the social and economic benefits AI can bring: “We will continue to work with the sector in the coming months to secure a comprehensive Sector Deal that make the UK the go to place for AI and helps us grasp the opportunities that lie ahead.”