Government, Tech Firms Invest £1bn Into British AI Industry

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Deal worth £1 billion from private sector and government to put UK at forefront of artificial intelligence industry

“AI in today’s workplace is more ‘Robocop’ than ‘Terminator’s SkyNet’,” said Walmsley. “It augments human capabilities so that systems can operate at speeds and scales that humans alone cannot. Furthermore, in the uniquely adversarial world of cybersecurity, AI is helping to address a significant professional skills and resource gap and is reducing the barrier to entry to the cybersecurity profession.”

The new AI investment was also welcomed by Boris Krumrey, chief robotics officer at automation expert UiPath.

Skills needed

“AI has the potential to benefit everything that we do,” said Krumrey. “However, it is vital that there is further investment in research and education around AI and robotics, and the benefits this tech will bring such as increased employment opportunities. These jobs may look different than before and require other skillsets and knowledge.”

Another expert also commented on the skills needed for an AI future.

“The government also needs policies urgently to address the yawning skills gap in AI and related areas,” said Mike Drew, head of technology at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson. “There is potentially limitless demand from companies to explore and utilise possibilities of machine learning but a severe shortage of specialists to make this a reality.”

AI ethics

Another expert pointed to the likely impact the investment would have on AI ethics, something which the House of Lords report focused on.

“Out of everything announced in today’s AI sector deal, one of the most significant is the Centre for Data Ethics,” said Emma Kendrew, Accenture Technology’s AI Lead. “AI-driven operations are now becoming more common-practice. It is already being trialled across hiring processes, medical practices and even the criminal justice system.”

“As the stakes get higher, AI will have unprecedented access and impact on the ways people work and live,” said Kendrew. “The technology needs to be nurtured in the same way as a child and taught the principles of good citizenship: responsibility, fairness, and transparency. It’s definitely a case of nurture over nature.”

“The new Centre established today will have a vital role in making sure AI is ‘raised’ and deployed responsibly,” she said. “As a world-first, it will ensure that the UK stays firmly pinned on the map as a top location for global businesses to invest in their AI efforts, as well as for homegrown talent to thrive.”

More needed

Another expert said the government needs to be much more ambitious with AI going forward.

“Whilst the investment is welcome, there is a whole lot more we could be doing to secure our intelligent future,” said Ed Stacey, founding partner at IQ Partner.

“The government must be much more ambitious to make effective policy that will actually encourage innovation and bridge the prohibitive skills deficit in the UK,” said Stacey. “It’s one thing to be a leader in an academic field with limited commercial application, but practical application translating into commercial and social success requires more active support.”

“Other countries, such as China, have been strengthening their tech sectors by actively supporting companies in fields of interest,” he said. “We need targeted and strategic support of key fields if we want to advance our position in AI.”

Finally AI’s role in businesses in the future was also touched upon by another expert.

“Over the last five years, Black Swan Data has seen a massive rise in businesses embracing AI technology, from retail to transportation, CPG and utilities, so as a technology, there’s no doubt that it is going to be an integral part of our future,” explained Steve King, CEO and co-founder of Black Swan Data.

“This investment – and particularly its focus on skills – will only help UK continue to lead when it comes to artificial intelligence, but investment in technology is only one side of the coin,” said King. “There also needs to be careful consideration of its wider impact and ideally regulation on how it’s implemented – in the case of AI, we may already be past the point of trying to regulate it.”

“In recent weeks it’s become clear that a lack of oversight can have serious consequence and so the introduction of an AI Council and new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is very welcome,” he said. “The government needs to ensure that these bodies are made up of people who really understand the technology and are able to devise an approach that provides parameters, but does not hinder it.”

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