As of Thursday the 26th of April, the government have announced an injection of £1 billion into the UK’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry. The deal will be funded by more than 50 leading tech companies and organisations, in addition to £300 million from government expenditure.
The deal falls under the jurisdiction of both the Business and Digital Departments. Matt Hancock, the Digital Secretary, insists: ‘the UK must be at the forefront of emerging technologies’ to ensure that ‘we continue to build a Britain that is shaping the future’.
If the UK is to prosper alongside tech giants China and the US, the government needs to set aside space in the budget for such prosperity. The UK undoubtedly has the academic prowess to compete in the industry. On this basis, the investment into AI seems to be the government realising the direction that the world is heading in, and capitalising on the resources available to them to tap into this rapidly evolving industry.
Global support has been established for the AI deal, with venture capital firms in Vancouver and China establishing European HQ firms in the UK and investing a combined total of £145 million into the UK’s industry.
Backing for the government’s plans has been widespread across private sector businesses. The industry is an ‘opportunity to create competitive advantage for the UK economy’, said Marc Waters, the managing director for Hewlett Packard Enterprises.
For instance, BT have collaborated with Ulster University to develop a £29 million AI research and development cluster. They intend to attract and retain industrial engineers and university researchers.
Further to this, Rolls Royce are a significant supporter of the industry. They are to run a joint research programme with the Alan Turing Institute. The Chief Digital Officer for Rolls Royce called this ‘an exciting new phase’ in their relationship with the Alan Turing Institute, which has the potential to ‘strengthen Rolls Royce’s reputation as a world leading adopter of AI technologies’.
Notably, the deal focuses on the importance of education in growing Britain’s AI. The government are set to fund 1,000 new PhDs to keep the UK at the forefront of AI research. Additionally, the University of Cambridge are to open a £10 million AI supercomputer to improve research into AI.
On a lower level, computer science will also be emphasised in the school system. The deal announces funding for the training of 8,000 specialist teachers in the subject.
We are living in a new industrial revolution, with the advancement of technology at its centre. The education sector is inevitably being steered to ensure that the UK both nurtures and attracts the brains which will capitalise from the development of deep-tech.
The dawn of a new era?
Of course, one of the common worries about AI is that robots will eventually steal everyone’s jobs, or at least those in lower paid positions. We have already seen this happen in some industries. For instance, self-service machines are increasingly relied upon in the retail sector. The economy has arguably been ‘de-industrialised’ as the service industry becomes increasingly dominant.
AI can be of benefit in such an economy; it can increase productivity whilst reducing labour.
Earlier this year, Bill Gates expressed a positive vision for a world where AI is fully utilised. Arguing that if we are able to use AI technology in both the services and manufacturing industry, humanity will be able to live a life with more purpose than just labouring.
This is an interesting and attractive prediction of an AI-orientated world. Perhaps robots taking our jobs is not such a bad thing. We could find in the next couple of decades our economies thriving from increased productivity, whilst the need for us to spend the vast majority of our lives working vanishes.
A worthwhile investment?
Such a large injection into the AI industry does raise concerns about the financial negligence towards other sectors. One worry is that more and more emphasis will be put on higher education, leaving those who do not go to university behind.
However, there is potential for the UK to bolster its economy by leading the way in AI technology. If Britain is to reestablish itself as a key player in the global economy it is important for it to ’embrace [AI] and shape it’ said Gerard Grech, the CEO of Tech Nation.
One particular AI project stands out to me as a positive prospect.
Babylon Health technology allows users to have virtual consultations with a GP via video messaging and text. By February 2018, their Fulham health centre partnership was providing about 2,000 10-minute video consultations a week, 30 per cent outside normal 8am-8pm GP working hours.
It is estimated that people going to the GP for no good reason costs the NHS upwards of £300 million each year. Seemingly, if this technology could be integrated into our National Health Service, there would be noticeable cost benefits.
I think a clear reason why the government have decided to invest so much into this industry is the potential for a large pay off. If the world really is heading in the direction of an Artificial Intelligence economy, then being one of the countries leading in that revolution does not seem such a bad thing.
I will admit, that a vision of a world where we are served by robots is somewhat frightening and a little too close to Black Mirror for comfort. However, we are confronted with AI everyday and do not spare much thought for it. Perhaps we should not be too sceptical about this investment by the government. Maybe the Conservatives are actually beginning to adapt their colonial-era vision of the world to one which understands the direction that our lives are heading in.