Artificial intelligence - is the UK ready, willing and able to invest?

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Nothing short of a concerted effort by the government, and the public and private sectors, will be enough if the UK is to be a world leader of artificial intelligence, argues Mike Rebeiro, head of digital and innovation at law firm Macfarlanes.

As part of its Industrial Strategy unveiled last November, the government identified artificial intelligence (AI) as one of its four 'Grand Challenges' facing the UK. 

As such, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy's (BEIS) stated ambition is "to put the UK at the forefront of the AI and data revolution", predicting that UK GDP will be 10% higher (or an additional £232bn per year) by 2030 as a direct result of AI.

The BEIS recently announced the UK Artificial Sector Deal between the government and the private sector, outlining a package of £603m in new private and public sector funding for AI, and up to £324m from existing government funding.

The sector deal focuses on five areas:

• Infrastructure - in addition to the £1bn+ being invested in digital infrastructure, creating new data sharing frameworks to address the barriers of sharing publicly and privately held data to allow for the "fair and equitable data sharing between organisations in the private sector and between the private and public sectors"

• Ideas - boosting research and development spending in the private sector to 2.4% by 2027 and rising to 3% in the longer term

• People - growing digital skills in the workforce and creating by 2025 at least 1,000 government-supported AI PhD places

• Business environment - the creation of a new AI Council, bringing together respected leaders from academia and industry, and the creation of a new government delivery body, the Office for Artificial Intelligence, as well as a new centre for data ethics and innovation

• Places - ensuring that businesses around the UK grow by using AI.

If the government and businesses can achieve these goals, there will be a growing investment and acquisition market in AI technologies and companies within the UK.

The week before the publication of the Sector Deal, the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence report was also published.

The report, AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?, concludes that the "UK is in a strong position to be among the world leaders in the development of artificial intelligence during the 21st century".

Nevertheless, the report also stated that the development of the UK as an AI hub will also require not only the governance of existing legislation, but also new legal frameworks to be put in place.

Unlike other disruptive technologies, many forms of AI have the capacity to learn, make decisions independently and decide the basis upon which it is going to make decisions without human involvement or intervention.

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