Even as Prime Minister Boris Johnson was simultaneously quoting Sophocles and Kermit the Frog to a bemused UN, the latest piece of his government’s post-Brexit plan to make the UK a success now it’s out of Europe was unveiled: a new national “AI Strategy” to boost British business use of AI, attract international investment and develop a next generation of tech talent.
Centred on schemes to launch a new national programme and approach to better support advanced computer science research and development, proposals that sound a little like a rival to the new EU AI Act around the governance and regulation of AI to build confidence in its use, plus moves to support organisations in every region and sector capitalise on the power of AI technologies, the ideas are nothing if not characteristically ambitious of the Vote Leave end of British politics.
“The UK already punches above its weight internationally and we are ranked third in the world behind the USA and China in the list of top countries for AI,” claims the Minister leading the part of Whitehall pushing all this, Chris Philp.
“Today 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.”
So far, reaction to the ideas have been, shall we say, one of cautious welcome balanced by some scepticism. “This is a clear sign that the UK government wants to remain a global player in artificial intelligence,” comments Peter van per Putten, director of decisioning and AI solutions at software vendor Pegasystems. “It is particularly encouraging to see a shift from broad strategic policy statements and good, yet non-committal intentions to more concrete, action-oriented recommendations, also in the short and mid-term.
But like many observers, van der Putten also says there is a lack of detail on hard commitments, especially on what is probably going to be the most important factor in whether this is doomed to remain at the Government press release stage: money. “One should put one’s money where one’s mouth is,” he states wryly. “These plans will need to be accompanied by proper levels of investment, and hard commitments on these investments are still lacking.”
Do the plans hinge on a looser approach to data governance than the EU’s?
That’s not to say there isn’t money going into UK AI: venture capital investment in UK AI companies has already hit $3.3bn thus far in 2021, pipping the $3bn invested in 2020. The Tories also point to the fact they have, since 2014, invested more than £2.3 billion of public money into AI across a range of initiatives.
But perhaps the most salient fact about the Strategy is that there is a definite sense of urgency to it. Inside three months, the document promises the Tories will publish a plan outlining for the state’s role in enabling better data availability in the economy (which many take to be a hint at divergence from GDPR to allow greater harvesting of citizen data), a draft national strategy for the use of AI in health and social care, among other ideas.
Could be an interesting rest of 2021 here: RockingRobots.com will keep you posted on both what does and doesn’t happen out of these brave promises.