UK makes bid to become global AI superpower

By on 23/09/2021 | Updated on 24/09/2021
The UK aims to position itself as “the best place to live and work with AI, with clear rules, applied ethical principles and a pro-innovation regulatory environment,” the government says. Photo courtesy Number 10 via Flickr

The UK has laid out its first strategy for becoming a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI) in order to meet increasing competition in the field from around the world.

Published on the third day of London Tech Week, the government’s National AI Strategy sets out a 10-year plan to strengthen investment in innovation and secure public trust in how AI is used to protect money and data as well as provide healthcare.

Its ambitions include making sure all regions of the country enjoy the benefits of AI – part of its ‘levelling-up’ agenda – and to position the UK as “the best place to live and work with AI, with clear rules, applied ethical principles and a pro-innovation regulatory environment”.

Speaking at the launch, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) minister Chris Philp said: “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.”

Mitigating harms 

Regulation of AI will be a key challenge for the UK government as it will for countries around the world as they grapple with how to mitigate the harms posed by new technologies. The risks include algorithmic bias, discrimination, and misuse of personal and financial data.

“The boundaries of AI risks and harms are grey, because the harms raised by these technologies are often non-AI, or extensions of non-AI, issues, and also because AI is rapidly developing and therefore what counts as the AI part of a system is constantly changing,” the strategy report says.

A white paper on AI regulation is set to be published in early 2022. This is expected to build on the government’s recent Plan for Digital Regulation by determining the requirements for a level playing field in which regulators can operate effectively across different sectors.

The strategy report notes that where AI is used internally by government, such as within the Ministry of Defence (MoD), “rigorous codes of conduct and regulation which uphold responsible AI use” would apply. It added that the MoD is “working closely with the wider government on approaches to ensure clear alignment with the values and norms of the society we represent”.

Long-term view

Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, co-director of the Centre for Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, said it was encouraging to see a strategy from government that prioritised the long view of the UK’s future with AI.

“Any transformative technology may pose unprecedented risks as well as benefits; the government is taking a leadership position by recognising its responsibility to anticipate and manage these risks.”

He added however that the government would need to prioritise investment in research if the UK is to compete alongside other global powerhouses, most notably China and the US.

“The government has made important commitments around horizon scanning, progress monitoring, AI safety research and boosting compute capacity for academics. It must now back up these commitments with required funding in the upcoming Spending Review.”

‘Levelling up’

The National AI Strategy echoes government’s wider pledge to “level-up” neglected regions of the UK by launching a joint Office for AI (OAI) and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) programme. The aim will be to extend research and development beyond London and the South-East.

Professor Adrian Hilton, director of Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing at the University of Surrey, said that world leadership in AI from the UK would require it to invest in technology centred on “the needs of individuals and communities [and] which are ethical, responsible and inclusive”.

Hilton added: “The country’s first National AI Strategy lays the groundwork to this brighter future, but it is up to academia, government, and industry to work together to make AI the force for good that it should be.”

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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