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April 26, 2023updated 27 Apr 2023 10:42am

Innovate UK launches £100m fund to help enterprise adopt AI

Investment will focus on agriculture, construction, transportation and creative industries as they have lowest AI uptake.

By Ryan Morrison

A new £100m fund has been established by Innovate UK to help UK businesses prepare for and deploy artificial intelligence technologies. The focus is on companies operating in agriculture, construction, transportation and creative industries. It follows the announcement of a new AI taskforce setup to train, integrate and promote foundation model AI across the public and private sector.

Agriculture is seen as one of four key sectors that would benefit most from deploying artifical intelligence (Photo: Suwin/Shutterstock)
Agriculture is seen as one of four key sectors that would benefit most from deploying artificial intelligence (Photo: Suwin/Shutterstock)

Named BridgeAI, the programme is designed to drive growth and competitiveness in the UK economy through the use of AI and machine learning. This follows recent comments from chancellor Jeremy Hunt at a recent event where he urged UK businesses to “win the race” for AI dominance.

Funding comes from Innovate UK and the Technologies Mission Fund launched by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in March and, as well as providing grants will bring together companies from key sectors most likely to benefit from the technology with experts and developers to create a new AI innovation network.

“We aim to unlock the untapped potential of AI and drive greater productivity and efficiency across key sectors,” said Will Drury, executive director, digital and technology at Innovate UK. “By nurturing AI innovation at the grass roots level, we’re confident that this programme will enable thousands of businesses to add even greater value to the UK economy and compete more effectively on the global stage.”

During the spring budget, Hunt unveiled a raft of measures to support the development of AI including £900m investment in compute power with a specialized AI resource for training large scale models such as the one that powers OpenAI’s ChatGPT. It coincided with an AI regulation framework that is pro-innovation and very light touch compared to approaches in Europe and China.

Innovate UK selected agriculture, construction, transportation, and the creative industries due to a low AI adoption rate compared to other sectors and a “high potential for transformation.”

Sector specific focus for UK AI funding

It is part of the wider National AI Strategy launched by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and will include support from the Alan Turing Institute, the Digital Catapult and Hartree Centre and include ensuring any adoption is done responsibly and inline with the AI framework.

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“As we see large companies reap the rewards of adopting AI,” Tabitha Goldstaub, chair of the national AI Council said, “it’s even more important to ensure that lower AI maturity UK sectors get the support they need to benefit from the economic and social benefits this technology brings. By building innovation networks to stimulate both the demand and supply side, I’m excited to see the potential BridgeAI has to turbo charge those industries that are often left behind.”

As well as connecting businesses to AI experts and building an innovation community around the use of AI, the team behind BridgeAI will also support the development of cutting edge technologies that meet both supply and demand sides of the AI ecosystem and are tailored to the needs of the high growth sectors. They will also provide training and other resources to those companies.

Ekaterina Almasque, general partner at deep tech venture capital company OpenOcean, says this funding will be a key factor in building the infrastructure of the data economy in the UK, but disagreed with the assessment that creative, agriculture, construction and transport are the best sectors of the economy to direct focus.

“The UK’s real competitive advantage will come from overinvestment in domestic start-ups tackling data infrastructure, datasets, and efficient collaboration,” she said. “These are the fields in which the most value will be generated from AI. Therefore, if the government wishes to build a competitive tech ecosystem in this country, it will need to focus on these fields.”

Providing funding and resources like BridgeAI will “enable domestic companies to scale, compete with international rivals and support the UKs ambitions as a tech superpower,” she added. “A key component of this, however, will also be to ensure that UK start-ups can access enough training data to feed their new AI models: enabling them to compete with hyperscalers like Google or Microsoft who have their own stashes of proprietary data.”

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