Britain publishes 10-year National Artificial Intelligence Strategy

Aw, look. It wants to be a 'global science superpower'


The UK government has published its much-awaited National AI Strategy in pursuit of "global science superpower" status.

The document talks of plans for a "new national programme and approach to support research and development" plus a government white paper on the governance and regulation of AI [PDF].

Details of the strategy were trailed back in January when the AI Council published its "AI Roadmap" including 16 recommendations to the government.

Among the headlines from today's announcement is the recognition that to make any progress, ministers must ensure the right skills are in place – and that means starting at school age right up to postgraduate learning.

The government also plans to launch a National AI Research and Innovation Programme to – you guessed it – improve research.

And to make sure all this can be achieved, it's planning on carrying out an audit to check whether the country has sufficient computing capacity to underpin and roll out AI.

That's before the companies developing it are snapped up by US firms, that is. The UK's most famous AI export, DeepMind, was sold to Google in 2014 for $400m. Not to worry, though, many National Health Trusts signed up to transfer their data deals with DeepMind Health to its parent company in Mountain View. In the same year, Evi Technologies was snapped up by Amazon, and the following year, Brit AI outfit VocalIQ was acquired by Apple. In June 2016, Twitter bought Imperial College AI spinout Magic Pony for £102m. Meanwhile, Microsoft bought SwiftKey, Britain's "stealthiest software startup", in 2017.

With an eye on potential vote-winning announcements in the future, the UK government is also looking to open a joint Office for AI (OAI) and UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) programme aimed at encouraging the development of AI in regions beyond affluent London and the South East.

Assuming that all this delivers some tangible results, there are plans to consult on copyright and patents for AI through the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to make sure the UK is capitalising on the ideas it generates and that there is clarity in all matters to do with copyright.

According to a recent report by the IPO [PDF], the UK is in sixth place in terms of the amount of AI patents filed. According to WIPO, Japan, China and the US account for 78 per cent of total AI patents.

Earlier this month, a US federal judge upheld a ruling by the US Patent and Trademark Office that AI systems cannot be granted patents and will not be recognised as inventors in the eyes of the US law.

There are also plans by UK.gov to trial an AI Standards Hub to look into AI ethics and safety.

The whole approach of the government's AI strategy for the next 10 years hinges on a number of assumptions including that "AI will become mainstream" and "governance and regulatory regimes will need to keep pace with the fast-changing demands."

In a statement, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Minister Chris Philp said: "Artificial intelligence technologies generate billions for the economy and improve our lives. 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."

Today's announcement was accompanied by news that since 2014, the government has ploughed more than £2.3bn into AI, including £250m to develop the safe adoption of AI in health and care, and a similar amount looking into connected and autonomous mobility. ®

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