The government has published a review outlining steps to help bolster the development of artificial intelligence (AI) in the UK, including measures aimed at improving public acceptance of the technology.
AI is considered valuable for speeding up, automating and scaling processes in fields ranging from medicine to manufacturing and finance, but industry observers have also predicted it will cause significant job losses.
The use of sensitive data to train AI tools has also been controversial, with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruling that an arrangement between the NHS and Google’s DeepMind subsidiary that used patient data to refine automated diagnostic processes broke data privacy rules.
“Our vision is for the UK to become the best place in the world for businesses developing and deploying AI to start, grow and thrive,” wrote authors Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, and Jérôme Pesenti, chief executive of BenevelentTech.
They added that while other countries and multinationals are investing heavily in AI development, “the UK is still regarded as a centre of expertise”.
The authors cited an industrial green paper published in January that found AI could add £630bn to the British economy by 2035.
AI’s recent expansion has depended upon larger volumes of data becoming available and the availability of experts and computing capacity, the study found.
To continue the UK’s AI growth the report recommended increasing the ease of access to data in a wider range of sectors, with the development of ‘data trusts’ to ensure information is shared securely. More research data should be made machine readable, and text and data mining should be supported as a standard tool for research, the review recommended.
It said measures should be taken to boost the availability of skilled talent, including an industry-funded Master’s programme, research to develop conversion courses and more PhD places in AI.
To support research the study argued the Alan Turing Institute should be designated as the national institute for artificial intelligence and data science, with intellectual property transfer being more standardised and research computing capacity being better coordinated.
Recognising that the public perception of AI can be problematic, the review said an AI Council should be formed to promote the sector’s growth, and that guidance should be developed on how to explain the decisions and processes enabled by automated tools.
“We are at the threshold of an era when much of our productivity and prosperity will be derived from the systems and machines we create,” the report’s authors wrote.
Dame Wendy Hall said technical education needed to be improved for the UK to make the most of artificial intelligence.
“Now is the time for us all – scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and the government – to come together and address the issues about how AI is going to impact society and seek ways to ensure that we’re able to deliver the great breakthroughs the technology has the potential to deliver,” she said in a statement.
Jérôme Pesenti said the report’s recommendations were “practicable and deliverable”.
Culture secretary Karen Bradley said a partnership with industry and academia should be built to “cement our position as the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business”.
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