Government pumps £17m into country’s ‘booming’ AI sector

Major review launched for a sector Whitehall thinks could add an additional £654bn to our economy

Posted 27 February 2017 by Gary Flood

New ways to support Britain’s growing AI ecosystem are going to be announced this week to boost the market and hopefully help add to the country’s overall economy.

Due on Wednesday (March 1st) and set to be published by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, we’re promised nothing less than a “bold Digital Strategy”.

“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,” said Bradley.

The Strategy is said to build on ideas first set out in the government’s Industrial Strategy to “capitalise on Britain’s existing strengths and back new technologies where the UK can take a lead”, according to the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

According to the government, this idea is to capitalise on our existing position as a “world-leader in the science underpinning this technology”.

That means the sector has the potential to grow further, from early research to commercialisation, think observers such as consultancy Accenture, which thinks, done right, AI could add another £654bn to UK GDP.

While we have to wait for then for the full details, the Department says to expect a major AI review led by Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and the CEO of BenevolentTech, the technology division of BenevolentAI, Jérôme Pesenti, to identify the critical elements for “the exciting technology to thrive and grow in the UK”.

That review will consider how the public sector and industry could work together to back the technology, while in parallel a funding boost of £17.3m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has been found to support the development of new Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI) technologies in universities across the UK. This includes a project by the University of Manchester to develop robots capable of operating autonomously and effectively within hazardous environments such as nuclear facilities, while researchers at Imperial College London will use funds to make major advances in the field of surgical micro-robotics, says the Department.

“Investment in robotics and artificial intelligence will help make our economy more competitive, build on our world-leading reputation in these cutting-edge sectors, and help us create new products, develop more innovative services and establish better ways of doing business,” noted Business Secretary Greg Clark.