The British government and the private sector have both contributed to a £1 billion deal that seeks to place the UK at the head of the artificial intelligence industry.

The deal includes almost £300 million from more than 50 technology companies, and will be coupled with 1,000 new government funded AI PhDs to help drive the UK’s research expertise.

It comes after the European Commission last week called for a 20 billion euro (£17bn) investment in artificial intelligence across the European Union in order to catch up with Chinese and US research.

AI Deal

It also comes after a recent report by the House of Lords, which proposed a list of recommendations for the UK to become a global leader in AI innovation.

That report concluded that the UK is uniquely positioned to shape the development of artificial intelligence, but a code of ethics is needed so it benefits mankind.

Into this mix arrives the new AI deal that combines cash pledges from both the private sector and the government.

It was revealed last week by Business Secretary Greg Clark and Digital Secretary Matt Hancock.

It apparently includes more than £300 million of newly allocated government funding for AI research, and expands the commitment made by the government in its Industrial Strategy and its AI Grand Challenge.

The government is investing heavily in AI to help the UK “seize the £232 billion opportunity AI offers the UK economy by 2030.

The £1 billion AI deal includes a number of private sector investments, such as Japanese venture capital firm Global Brain opening its first European HQ in the UK and investing £35 million in UK deep-tech start-ups.

Other private sector developments include the University of Cambridge opening a new £10 million AI supercomputer and making its infrastructure available to businesses; Canadian venture capital firm Chrysalix, establishing a European HQ in the UK and use it to invest up to £110 million in AI and robotics; and the Alan Turing Institute and Rolls-Royce jointly-running AI-related research projects.

“The UK must be at the forefront of emerging technologies, pushing boundaries and harnessing innovation to change people’s lives for the better,” explained Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Matt Hancock

“Artificial Intelligence is at the centre of our plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business,” he said. “We have a great track record and are home to some of the world’s biggest names in AI like Deepmind, Swiftkey and Babylon, but there is so much more we can do.”

“By boosting AI skills and data driven technologies we will make sure that we continue to build a Britain that is shaping the future,” he concluded.

Investment Areas

The government is hoping to turn the UK into an AI research hotspot, with investment in the high-level post-graduate skills.

This includes money for training for 8,000 specialist computer science teachers, 1,000 government-funded AI PhDs by 2025 and a commitment to develop a prestigious global Turing Fellowship programme to attract and retain the best research talent in AI to the UK.

This will make sure every secondary school has a fully qualified computer science GCSE teacher to give the next generation the skills they need to develop and capitalise on future technology.

Meanwhile the accountancy firm Sage have also committed to delivering an AI pilot programme for 150 young people across the UK.

Expert reaction

The deal has been broadly welcomed across the industry, with a number of experts offering their thoughts on the matter.

Matt Walmsley, EMEA Director at Vectra explained how the focus on and investing in AI is a positive move for both the UK and Europe.

“At the moment the main problem with AI is that it isn’t clearly understood,” said Walmsley. “Artificial Intelligence is here to stay, and will touch many parts of our working and private lives. It is yet to become truly autonomous in the workplace, but its deployment is already increasingly common in areas like decision support.”

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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