The government has today unveiled a mega deal worth almost £1bn to put Britain at the forefront of the artificial intelligence industry and build its status as an AI research hotspot.

More than 50 leading businesses and organisations have contributed to the development of the deal, which features almost £300m of new private sector investment.

The deal between government and industry, announced by business secretary Greg Clark and digital secretary Matt Hancock, also includes over £300m of newly allocated government funding for AI research.

It marks the first phase of a major innovation-focused investment drive in AI which aims to help the UK seize the £232bn opportunity AI offers Britain's economy by 2030.

"Artificial Intelligence is at the centre of our plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business," Hancock said.

"We have a great track record and are home to some of the world's biggest names in AI like Deepmind, Swiftkey and Babylon, but there is so much more we can do.

"By boosting AI skills and data driven technologies we will make sure that we continue to build a Britain that is shaping the future."

→ READ MORE: Lords Committee: UK can lead the way on ethical AI

It is hoped that the deal will help establish the UK as a research hotspot, with measures to ensure the innovators and tech entrepreneurs of tomorrow are based in the UK.

It includes money for training for 8,000 specialist computer science teachers, 1,000 government-funded AI PhDs by 2025 and a commitment to develop a prestigious global Turing Fellowship programme to attract and retain the best research talent in AI to the UK.

This will make sure every secondary school has a fully qualified computer science GCSE teacher to give the next generation the skills they need to develop and capitalise on future technology.

As part of the deal, the accountancy firm Sage has also committed to delivering an AI pilot programme for 150 young people across the UK.

The government has pledged to provide £20m to help industries including law and insurance with new pilot projects to identify how AI can transform and enhance their operations.

Today’s announcement also included plans to establish a £9m Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. It will address the challenges posed by the adoption of AI and advise on the measures needed to ensure safe, ethical and innovate uses of data-driven technologies.

Greg Clark said: "As with all innovation there is also the potential for misuse which puts the whole sector under scrutiny and undermines public confidence.

"That is why we are establishing a new world-leading body, to ensure the ethical use of data in AI applications for the benefit of all."

→ READ MORE: 'Rise of AI means fewer law firms by 2030'

Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech Nation, says one of the biggest changes the UK faces over the next decade is technological and that the development of AI will be at the forefront of it.

"The UK needs to embrace it and shape it,” he said.

"As a recognised global centre of AI expertise with companies like DeepMind, Improbable and 5AI, the UK is in a great position, and by building strong networks of shared knowledge and expertise, we can make it even stronger."

The government's AI sector deal comes as the European Commission said it will boost its investment in AI by about 70 per cent to 1.5bn Euros by 2020 to catch up with Asia and the US, which are each investing at least three times more than Europe.

"Just as the steam engine and electricity did in the past, AI is transforming our world," said Andrus Ansip, vice-president of the European Commission.

Tech expert Boris Krumrey, chief robotics officer at automation expert UiPath, has welcomed the plans.
 
“AI has the potential to benefit everything that we do," he said.

"While automation is able to streamline repetitive, rules-based business processes, the software is largely unable to deal with exceptions on its own or make decisions outside of how it has been programmed.

"AI can be used, even in addition to automation software, to approach tasks that require more complex decision-making and analysis, such as natural language processing, recommendation services and online customer support.

“However, it is vital that there is further investment in research and education around AI and robotics and the benefits this tech will bring such as increased employment opportunities.

"These jobs may look different than before and require other skillsets and knowledge. For example, individuals would be tasked with developing new automation technologies and managing the implementation of these technologies within our business environment.

"Furthermore, individuals will remain responsible for emotive occupations, such as therapists and teachers – professions that still have low automation potential.”

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