A new taskforce launched by the government to help the UK adopt next-generation artificial intelligence technologies – including image generation tools such as Midjourney and chat tools like ChatGPT from OpenAI – has been given £100m in initial startup funding. The government says it will “ensure sovereign capabilities” in an increasingly important field.
Foundation models, such as those underpinning large language models like OpenAI’s GPT-4, Google’s PaLM and AI21 Lab’s Jurassic-2 are systems trained on massive data sets that have no one purpose. They are forms of general-purpose AI that can be tailored or fine-tuned to specific use cases from drug discovery to essay writing.
In less than six months, since the launch of ChatGPT, companies have refocused and launched foundation model tools such as Microsoft’s Copilot or EinsteinGPT from Salesforce and governments have invested in a combination of research into AI and ways to regulate its use.
As part of the recent budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt allocated £900m to boost compute power including making resources available for training foundation AI models. This new funding will allow the taskforce to direct research and invest in home-grown AI tools built on that compute power.
The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) says the aim of the £100m taskforce is to ensure the country can capitalise on AI, which is expected to increase global GDP by 7% up to 2030 and add billions to the UK GDP figure.
Healthcare is seen as an important market for foundation AI tools, particularly with the vast amount of data available through the NHS. It could be used to speed up diagnosis, improve drug discovery times, and even find new, previously unknown compounds that can aid in drug development.
Education is also an area the taskforce is expected to focus on, helping transform teachers’ day-to-day work and free their time to focus on teaching rather than administration.
The members of the taskforce, which is being modelled on the taskforce established at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, will also be responsible for supporting business and public trust in AI tools to further drive adoption. This will include working with various industries, regulators and civil society groups to ensure development of safe and reliable models at a scientific and commercial level.
Investment in compute power
It isn’t clear how much of this will be to build up national, publicly owned and supported foundation models to compete with the likes of Google, Microsoft and Amazon, or whether the focus will be purely on supporting the development of UK-owned, privately operated models.
A statement on the team said: “The Taskforce will focus on opportunities to establish the UK as a world leader in foundation models and their applications across the economy, and acting as a global standard bearer for AI safety.” This will include investment in infrastructure including the UK’s first exascale supercomputer and a dedicated AI research “resource”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said harnessing the power of AI presents “enormous opportunities to grow our economy”, adding that “by investing in emerging technologies through our new expert taskforce, we can continue to lead the way in developing safe and trustworthy AI as part of shaping a more innovative UK economy.”
Michelle Donelan, science, innovation and technology secretary, said it was important to act now to seize the opportunities AI can offer in the future. “To ensure such leadership, the greatest capability we can develop is in the safety and reliability of such systems. This will ensure that the public and business have the trust they need to confidently adopt this technology and fully realise its benefits. That is exactly what this taskforce will prioritise.”
Marc Warner, CEO of Faculty, a UK AI services company, welcomed the investment, explaining that AI is an “epoch-defining technology” that will revolutionise how we live and work “if deployed safely and responsibility”. But to reap the rewards and manage risks the UK needed to ensure the private and public sector worked efficiently together.
“It is welcome to see initial funding towards this goal, which will help ensure safe deployment and protect national security, whilst harnessing AI’s power to transform public services,” Warner said.
Matt Clifford, Chair of the Advanced Research and Innovation agency will work with the prime minister and DSIT secretary on finding a chair and membership of the new taskforce.