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AI, 5G & digital skills top agenda, but new Digital Strategy comes up short for Britain after Brexit

UK government's new Digital Strategy found wanting after tech leaders slam lack of detail.

By Ellie Burns

The UK government has outlined its new Digital Strategy to keep the country ahead in the digital revolution, amid its imminent exit from the European Union.

The strategy was split into seven sections, including; digital skills, connectivity, digital sectors, wider economy, security, digital government and data.

UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Karen Bradley said: “This Digital Strategy sets a path to make Britain the best place to start and grow a digital business, trial a new technology, or undertake advanced research as part of the Government’s plan to build a modern, dynamic and global trading nation.

“To do that, we will work closely with businesses and others to make sure the benefits and opportunities are spread across the country so nobody is left behind.”

Headlining the new strategy was plans to plug the ever-growing digital skills gap, with the government setting out its mission to create over four million free digital skills training opportunities.

The objective of the new plan is to make Britain as a favorable destination to start and grow a digital business. The government has turned to big name partnerships in a bid to hit the four million goal and lure new business to post-Brexit Britain.

Some of the big names recruited by the government include Lloyds Banking Group, which is set to offer face-to-face digital skills training to 2.5 million individuals, charities and small and medium businesses by 2020. Barclays, meanwhile, has also made a commitment to teach basic coding to 45,000 more children and assist up to one million people with general digital skills and cyber awareness.

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Digital Strategy Skills gap

In addition, Google has also pledged to help boost digital skills in seaside towns in the country, while the HP Foundation will bring a free online learning platform to the UK.

HP is proud to support the Government’s Digital strategy and to be part of the Digital Skills Partnership,” said George Brasher, MD UK&I at HP.

“The STEM worker shortfall is estimated to be at 40,000 each year in the UK and with more jobs being created to meet the shifting demands of the digital economy, this gap is widening. We believe we have a responsibility to partner with government, teachers, parents, pupils and other industry leaders to enhance digital learning and close the skills gap.”

In regards to connectivity the Digital Strategy made a bold pledge to UK citizens, promising that ‘no part of the country or group in society should be without adequate connectivity.”

The roll-out of 4G and superfast broadband will remain a top priority moving forward, with the gov’t planning to introduce a Universal Service Obligation which will give every individual, business and public premise across the country the right to request an affordable high speed broadband connection. Looking to the future, the gov’t plans to invest over $1 billion to speed the development and uptake of next-gen digital infrastructure, which will include 5G and full fibre.

Promising expansion of international tech hubs, digital friendly regulation and the establishment of a productivity council, tech leaders were quick to point out that the Digital Strategy was lacking in detail.

“Although the Government’s digital strategy is encouraging, currently the lack of detail is concerning. So far, the initiative fails to pinpoint factors such as how it will be measured to ensure its success. Britain doesn’t need any more strategic plans, it needs to start seeing tangible results,” said Dr Jamie Graves, CEO at ZoneFox.

“A digital strategy plan will only be as good as the foundation it’s built on. While the news is welcome, this appears to be a bit of a sticky plaster. We need to invest further in STEM, and to encourage greater female participation in particular in the computer sciences and cyber security where it’s woefully low. Fundamentally, if the UK is falling behind when it comes to digital skills, this leaves a worrying gap in the security ‘fence’ around the country.”

Although slammed for its lack of detail, experts did agree that the focus on R&D was a welcome addition to the Digital Strategy.

There will be a major AI review led by Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton and  Jérôme Pesenti, CEO of BenevolentTech, the technology subsidiary of BenevolentAI.

READ MORE: Government to boost funding for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence technologies

The review will seek to identify the critical elements for AI to thrive and grow in the UK. It will also look into how the Government and industry could work together in order to further the technology.

Leading the review, Jérôme Pesenti, CEO of BenevolentTech, said:

“Like the previous tech revolutions, AI will make the world a better place creating better medicine, personalised healthcare, more efficient transportation, smarter manufacturing and computers that adapt to us rather than us having to adapting to them.

“The UK needs to be at the forefront of the AI revolution. Its unique blend of academic strength, economic dynamism, and track record as a global innovator will place the UK at the forefront of this new wave of digital transformation.”


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