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February 26, 2017updated 27 Feb 2017 12:47pm

UK government makes a beeline for £654bn AI honeypot

Government to boost funding for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence technologies.

By James Nunns

Artificial Intelligence has captured the imagination for decades but it is only recently that it has moved from the realms of science fiction to that of science fact.

Now that AI looks to be on the cusp of becoming a reality, the UK government is to launch a review into how it can work with the UK tech industry in order to help the tech continue to grow.

According to Accenture, AI could add around £654 billion to the UK economy, so the Government is to announce some bold measures as part of its Digital Strategy to help it realise this potential.

On Wednesday 1st March, Culture Secretary Karen Bradley MP is expected to build on the Government’s Industrial Strategy by backing new technologies that the UK can take a global lead in developing.

Expected to be included in the Digital Strategy’s proposals 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.

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.

Jérôme Pesenti, CEO of BenevolentTech.

The Digital Strategy is also expected to confirm a funding boost of £17.3m, from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, to support the development of new Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI) technologies in universities across the UK.

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Pesenti said: “There has been a lot of unwarranted negative hype around Artificial Intelligence (AI), but it has the ability to drive enormous growth for the UK economy, create jobs, foster new skills, positively transform every industry and retain Britain’s status as a world leader in innovative technology.

“I am delighted to have been asked by the British Government to co-lead an AI Review.  I’ll focus on making recommendations and proposing actions that industry and Government can take to promote the long-term growth of the AI sector to ensure this incredible technology makes a positive economic and societal contribution.”

The moves due to be announced by the Government come as part of its ambition to strengthen the UK’s expertise in technology areas such as cyber security, connected and smart devices, autonomous vehicles and AI.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said: “Britain has a proud history of digital innovation – from the earliest days of computing to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s development of the World Wide Web.

“We are already pioneers in today’s artificial intelligence revolution and the Digital Strategy will build on our strengths to make sure UK-based scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs continue to be at the forefront.

“Technologies like AI have the potential to transform how we live, work, travel and learn, and I am pleased that Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti will be leading this review. It’s great that Government and industry will be working together to drive growth in the sector, to realise all the economic and social benefits for the UK.

“Backing our thriving digital economy to expand and grow by putting the best foundations in place to develop new technology is a vital part of this Government’s plan to build a modern, dynamic and global trading nation.”

Read more: 5 UK start-ups changing business with AI

Although the UK has built a reputation for leading the way when it comes to some of the most innovative and crucial technologies around the world, there have been criticisms leveled at successive governments that this talent does not remain in the UK.

Take DeepMind Technologies for example, founded in Britain in 2010 but acquired by Google in 2014 and now one of the leading companies in the AI and deep learning field.

ARM, acquired by SoftBank last year for £24bn, is another example of a British company being snapped up by much larger overseas company.

The United States, China, Japan and other countries have proved much more successful at developing large tech companies, and holding onto them, than the UK.

Although a greater level of collaboration between the UK government and industry, combined with greater funding, should be welcomed, there are plenty of challenges to overcome in order to successfully make the UK a leading tech power.

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