UK needs an AI strategy, says advisory committee

By on 14/01/2021 | Updated on 14/01/2021
Setting course for success: The AI Roadmap report has called on the UK government to devise a national AI strategy. Credit: Tamas Tuzes-Katai/Unsplash

The UK government needs an artificial intelligence (AI) strategy so it can be “influential in attracting talent, shaping global markets and global governance”, according to the AI Council, the government’s own advisory body.

Earlier this month the Council published a report, AI Roadmap, which, it says, aims to help “cement the UK as one of the very best places in the world to live with, work with and develop AI”. Its two main messages are to “double down” on investments and adapt to disruption.

The UK is currently third on the Global AI index, which ranks countries across a range of metrics, including investment and innovation. But the Council – a non-statutory expert committee, overseen by the business and culture departments – warns that the UK is the only European country on the index without a national AI strategy.  

“A national AI strategy is needed to prioritise and set a time frame that will position the UK for success,” the report states, adding that the AI Council stands ready to “convene workshops with the wider ecosystem in order to capture more detail and work together to ensure that a future national AI strategy enables the whole of the UK to flourish”. 

The recommendations

The report makes 16 recommendations to help the government develop a national strategy. These fall under four pillars: research, development and innovation; skills and diversity; data, infrastructure and public trust; and national, cross-sector adoption.  

The council strongly supports investment in AI, arguing that the technology could create a 10% increase in GDP by 2030. It calls on government to “scale up and make sustainable public sector investment in AI; ensure consistent access to top talent from around the world; and find new ways to bring researchers, disciplines and sectors together”. 

More specifically, the report urges the government to “cement the Alan Turing Institute as a truly national institute, with a set of regional investments that draw on strengths from across the UK”. It adds that the government should “provide assured long-term public sector funding that will give the Turing and others the confidence to plan and invest in strategic leadership for the UK in AI research, development and innovation”. 

The government also needs to invest in skills and education around AI, the report notes. The public sector should “scale up and commit to an ongoing 10-year programme of high-level AI skill-building,” it says. “This would include research fellowships, AI-relevant PhDs across disciplines, industry-led masters and level 7 apprenticeships.” 

The report’s authors are also conscious of the need for better regulation of AI, something that was also recommended by last month’s House of Lords report on the subject. “The UK will only feel the full benefits of AI if all parts of society have full confidence in the science and the technologies, and in the governance and regulation that enable them,” the report states.

As part of its recommendations, the AI Council suggests says that the UK take the lead in “developing appropriate standards to frame the future governance of data” and “finding ways to enable public scrutiny of, and input to, automated decision-making and help ensure that the public can trust AI”. 

It adds: “Building on its strengths, the UK has a crucial opportunity to become a global lead in good governance, standards and frameworks for AI and enhance bilateral cooperation with key actors.” 

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