UK's ARIA innovation body 'hasn't even begun to happen' says former research lead

DARPA imitator not doing much after two years of Johnson government


Updated The UK's efforts to copy US government and military innovation outfit DARPA are stalling, according to a leading figure in research and development.

Appearing before the Science and Technology Committee, Sir John Kingman, former chair of UK Research and Innovation, told MPs this morning that ARIA – the Advanced Research and Invention Agency – was a good example of departmental research spending that could be cut, sidelined or delayed.

"A very high-profile example would be ARIA, which has been this big plan for the Boris Johnson government, and yet here we are a few years into the Johnson government and it still hasn't even begun to happen," he told MPs.

Earlier this month reports suggested attempts to find a leader for the innovation unit had stalled.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, which leads the ARIA project, has been contacted for a comment and offered the opportunity to provide an update on progress.

ARIA was launched as a policy statement in March this year.

It was earmarked for £800m investment in the budget and was set to be modelled on the principles of the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) now renamed DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). ARPA was behind ARPAnet, a precursor to the internet.

Earlier this year, ARIA attracted criticism for a lack of focus in its mission. Officially it is tasked with "funding high-risk research that offers the chance of high rewards, supporting ground-breaking discoveries that could transform people's lives for the better."

But Dr Peter Highnam, DARPA's deputy director, had told the Science and Technology Committee: "Our mission is national security writ large... Can it be done? If so, how well can it be done? If somebody else is doing it, can we detect it, and how will we stop it? It is very clear."

The lack of progress on the ARIA was among Kingman's concerns for the way government controls R&D spending.

He was addressing a select committee that gathered to examine the government's commitment to spend £2.4bn on R&D across the public sector by 2024/25.

As public spending came under pressure following the COVID business bailout, furlough scheme, and fall in tax receipts, the commitment to spend the money during the period appeared to have been dropped in the Innovation Strategy published this summer.

The committee has asked the Secretary of State if this was deliberate, but he has not answered the question, said chair Greg Clark.

Kingman made the point that when government departments might be allocated money as part of the £22bn, it might be spent in other ways.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Manchester, told the committee that if the government were to renege on its commitment to spend the £22bn figure on R&D by 2024/25, it "would have limited value and I would question our ability to even begin to become a science superpower or deliver on levelling-up."

She said: "Recognising, of course, the financial constraints, there's a difference between costs and investment, and sometimes even in tough times you have to invest in something that's going to pay back a lot more than you invest." ®

Updated to add at 15:49 UTC:

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: "The Advanced Research and Invention Agency will fund transformational research so we can turn incredible ideas into new products and services, benefitting the entire United Kingdom. "The legislation to create ARIA is currently being considered in the House of Lords. Once operational, ARIA will be an invaluable addition to the UK’s thriving R&D ecosystem."

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • A peek into Gigabyte's GPU Arm for AI, HPC shops
    High-performance platform choices are going beyond the ubiquitous x86 standard

    Arm-based servers continue to gain momentum with Gigabyte Technology introducing a system based on Ampere's Altra processors paired with Nvidia A100 GPUs, aimed at demanding workloads such as AI training and high-performance compute (HPC) applications.

    The G492-PD0 runs either an Ampere Altra or Altra Max processor, the latter delivering 128 64-bit cores that are compatible with the Armv8.2 architecture.

    It supports 16 DDR4 DIMM slots, which would be enough space for up to 4TB of memory if all slots were filled with 256GB memory modules. The chassis also has space for no fewer than eight Nvidia A100 GPUs, which would make for a costly but very powerful system for those workloads that benefit from GPU acceleration.

    Continue reading
  • GitLab version 15 goes big on visibility and observability
    GitOps fans can take a spin on the free tier for pull-based deployment

    One-stop DevOps shop GitLab has announced version 15 of its platform, hot on the heels of pull-based GitOps turning up on the platform's free tier.

    Version 15.0 marks the arrival of GitLab's next major iteration and attention this time around has turned to visibility and observability – hardly surprising considering the acquisition of OpsTrace as 2021 drew to a close, as well as workflow automation, security and compliance.

    GitLab puts out monthly releases –  hitting 15.1 on June 22 –  and we spoke to the company's senior director of Product, Kenny Johnston, at the recent Kubecon EU event, about what will be added to version 15 as time goes by. During a chat with the company's senior director of Product, Kenny Johnston, at the recent Kubecon EU event, The Register was told that this was more where dollars were being invested into the product.

    Continue reading
  • To multicloud, or not: Former PayPal head engineer weighs in
    Not everyone needs it, but those who do need to consider 3 things, says Asim Razzaq

    The push is on to get every enterprise thinking they're missing out on the next big thing if they don't adopt a multicloud strategy.

    That shove in the multicloud direction appears to be working. More than 75 percent of businesses are now using multiple cloud providers, according to Gartner. That includes some big companies, like Boeing, which recently chose to spread its bets across AWS, Google Cloud and Azure as it continues to eliminate old legacy systems. 

    There are plenty of reasons to choose to go with multiple cloud providers, but Asim Razzaq, CEO and founder at cloud cost management company Yotascale, told The Register that choosing whether or not to invest in a multicloud architecture all comes down to three things: How many different compute needs a business has, budget, and the need for redundancy. 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022