National AI Strategy: Can UK really lead the way?
Can Britain become a global AI powerhouse? We ask one of Britain's leading AI firms about the pros and cons of the National AI Strategy.
Can Britain become a global AI powerhouse? We ask one of Britain’s leading AI firms about the pros and cons of the National AI Strategy.
What is the National AI Strategy?
The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced a ten-year plan to turn Britain into world leaders in AI.
“With the help of our thriving AI ecosystem and world-leading R&D system, this National AI Strategy will translate the tremendous potential of AI into better growth, prosperity and social benefits for the UK, and to lead the charge in applying AI to the greatest challenges of the 21st Century” The Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP.
These are typically bold worlds from number 10, who have previously supported UK AI businesses back in 2017 with the Industrial Strategy, a government vision to make the UK a global centre for AI innovation. As stated on the government’s website, April 2018 also saw the government and the UK’s AI ecosystem agree a near £1 billion AI Sector Deal to boost the UK’s global position as a leader in developing AI technologies.
This new National AI Strategy aims to:
- Invest and plan for the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem to continue UK leadership as a science and AI superpower;
- Support the transition to an AI-enabled economy, capturing the benefits of innovation in the UK, and ensuring AI benefits all sectors and regions;
- Ensure the UK gets the national and international governance of AI technologies right to encourage innovation, investment, and protect the public and our fundamental values.
The government believes this will be best achieved through broad public trust and support, and by the involvement of the diverse talents and views of society.
An intelligent future for the digital world
As a global AI firm, Skymind was excited to learn that the U.K. government had unveiled a national AI strategy — its first dedicated programme aimed at turbocharging the country’s strength in machine learning technologies.
Over the next 10 years, the strategy will lay the groundwork to increase the size and scale of artificial intelligence being created and commercialised in the U.K.
If all goes well, the government’s plan to prioritise and “level up” development and applications of artificial intelligence will transform the UK as “a global AI superpower” – by targeting support at areas like upskilling and reskilling in the hopes of reaping AI-driven economic rewards down the line.
Government policy is key to growth
Whether the plan will achieve it’s full ambitions is still anybody’s guess, but it’s a great example of how the government can apply policy to technology. With a core focus on responsibility, the initiative will allow the AI field to mature in directions that may not otherwise be possible with current ad tech dominated players.
Given that the government has already invested over £2.3 billion into AI since 2014, the strategy is still an important step forward in the world of artificial intelligence. The field is still catching up with the times yet. AI for large-scale use requires lots of investment and this piece of government policy is just the beginning of what could be a more progressive future for the field. The right policies will play a big role in pushing the industry towards the development of responsible applications and making AI robust enough for everyday use.
Pros and Cons
The most encouraging element of the strategy is the push towards AI policy – which is critical to the advancement of AI. However, the plan falls short when you look at the investment strategy, which really isn’t differentiated. Many countries are investing in AI by setting up dedicated budgets for it to incentivise the private sector to innovate in certain directions. The UK will need to find a way to show the world how it will set itself apart from other equally ambitious nations.
Britain at the very least, can be a peer to other world leading hubs, but it will take a very long time to become a top player and a global AI powerhouse. It is hard for any country to have their own Google or Facebook without time, investment, and proper innovation. Silicon Valley wasn’t built in a day!
Middle of the pack
The UK has a lot of catching up to do and faces stiff competition. The US and China are the obvious global players in AI but Japan and South Korea also stand out as very innovative players with their large manufacturing companies applying robotics at large scale. What makes them so successful is that each country invests in their specialities and puts large budgets and the right incentives allowing the field to flourish.
In terms of AI development, Britain ranks in the middle of the pack. It had one exit with Deep Mind, but even then it’s owned by a US company. It’s other large AI player, ARM, is also largely owned by a Japanese company.
It’s obvious that the UK is capable of creating large players but maintaining and investing in them allowing them to be UK owned is proving to be a challenge due to lack of investment.
Barriers to Britain’s AI future
Investment and policy adoption remain the biggest barriers to progressing AI in Britain but the National AI strategy can address both of these challenges by introducing a budget and policy around responsible usage that will support responsible innovation with a larger investment.
Business leaders and students alike should also play a role in shaping the future of AI, by finding out where the field is going and helping the government invest in the proper research of AI applications.
Potential to thrive
The National AI Strategy is a welcome initiative that is long overdue, and could change the UK’s standing in the sector. However, reaching global AI superpower status can’t be achieved overnight. It requires proper innovation and investment in the right policies. Differentiating on policies where it forces AI software providers to operate responsibly while enabling proper profiting off of their innovations will allow the UK to grow into a differentiated super power – and that’s key in a highly competitive, globalised market.