Government unveils ten-year plan to make Britain “a global AI superpower”

National AI Strategy to boost business use of AI, attract international investment and develop next generation of tech talent

Posted 23 September 2021 by Christine Horton

The Government has announced the UK’s first National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy.

It revealed there are plans to launch a new national programme to support research and development, publish a white paper on the governance and regulation of AI to build confidence in its use, plus moves to support organisations in every region and sector capitalise on the power of AI technologies.

The UK is ranked third in the world for private venture capital investment into AI companies (2019 investment into the UK reached almost £2.5 billion) and home to a third of Europe’s total AI companies.

The government said it would take measures to develop the next generation of AI talent through postgraduate learning and retraining and making sure children from wide backgrounds can access specialist courses.

It includes plans to: 

  • Launch a National AI Research and Innovation Programme to improve coordination and collaboration between the country’s researchers, while “boosting business and public sector adoption of AI technologies and their ability to take them to market.”
  • Launch a joint Office for AI (OAI) and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) programme aimed at continuing to develop AI in sectors based outside of London and the South East. This would focus on the commercialisation of ideas and could see, for example, the government focusing investment, researchers and developers to work in areas which currently do not use much AI technology but have potential, such as energy and farming. 
  • Publish a joint review with UKRI into the availability and capacity of computing power for UK researchers and organisations, including the physical hardware needed to drive a major roll out in AI technologies. The review will also consider wider needs for the commercialisation and deployment of AI, including its environmental impacts.
  • Launch a consultation on copyright and patents for AI through the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and that there is clarity in what and who determines copyright. This could include, for example, in situations where a creator was a machine rather than a human or if an algorithm used someone else’s patent.
  • Trialling an AI Standards Hub to coordinate UK engagement in setting the rules globally, and working with The Alan Turing Institute to update guidance on AI ethics and safety in the public sector and create practical tools to make sure the technology is used ethically.

“Artificial intelligence technologies generate billions for the economy and improve our lives. They power the technology we use on a daily basis and help save lives through better disease diagnosis and drug discovery,” said DCMS Minister Chris Philp, in a statement.

“The UK already punches above its weight internationally and we are ranked third in the world behind the USA and China in the list of top countries for AI. 

“Today we’re laying the foundations for the next ten years’ growth with a strategy to help us seize the potential of artificial intelligence and play a leading role in shaping the way the world governs it.”

Ten-year vision

The strategy follows government investment of more than £2.3 billion into AI since 2014 and has a ten-year vision to transform the UK’s capabilities in AI “in parallel with the rapid technological expansion around the world.”

The government will also launch a Defence AI Strategy later this year, the new Defence AI Centre through the Ministry of Defence and begin engagement on the draft National Strategy for AI-driven technologies in Health and Social Care through the NHS AI Lab.

Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said AI technologies have the capacity to fundamentally transform many aspects of the way we live and work.

“The UK is already a world leader in certain aspects of AI – and this strategy helps to define how to enhance those capabilities further to ensure that the UK can both develop and use AI for the benefit of citizens,” he said.

In January 2021, the AI Council published its ‘AI Roadmap’ providing 16 recommendations to the government on the strategic direction for AI. This included the recommendation to develop a National AI Strategy to build on the success of investments made through the £1 billion AI Sector Deal.