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UK government sets out 10-year plan to become AI ‘superpower’

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 29 Sep 2021

The new National AI Strategy sets out a number of measures to encourage, growth, innovation and adoption of AI technologies across the UK.

The UK government has announced its National AI Strategy, a 10-year plan to make the country a global leader in AI technology. 

“AI gives us new opportunities to grow and transform businesses of all sizes, and capture the benefits of innovation right across the UK,” stated Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. “As we build back better from the challenges of the global pandemic, and prepare for new challenges ahead, we are presented with the opportunity to supercharge our already admirable starting position on AI and to make these technologies central to our development as a global science and innovation superpower.”

The strategy is based on three assumptions for what will happen in the AI market over the next decade. The first is that the critical drivers of progress in the AI market are access to people, data, computing power and finance. There will be a lot of global competition to gain a strategic advantage in these areas. 

Secondly, that AI will become mainstream in most of the economy and if every sector and region will benefit from the transition, further action will be required. Thirdly, governance and regulatory regimes will need to adapt to the demands of AI; rising growth and competition; driving innovation; and protecting the safety, security and freedom of choice for individuals. 

In response to these assumptions, the AI strategy outlines three aims: invest in the long-term needs of the UK’s AI ecosystem; support the transition to a more AI-enabled economy; and ensure that the UK masters the national and international governance of AI technology. 

Going further, the government outlines activities around those three goals in the short-, medium- and long-term. The short-term (next three months) activities include publishing a framework for the government’s role in increasing data availability, a consultation on copyright and patents for AI and outlining the role of data protection in wider AI governance.

Over the next six-12 months, activities include rolling out new visa regimes to attract more talent into the UK AI economy, extending UK aid to encourage innovation in developing countries and piloting an AI standards hub to help coordinate global AI standardisation. 

Longer-term plans include launching a National AI Research and Innovation programme and a joint Office for AI/UKRI programme that will bring funding programmed into alignment and encourage the adoption of AI in high-potential but low-AI-maturity sectors. The government also wants to work with stakeholders to create an AI technical standards toolkit. 

Kirstin Gillon, Technical Manager for ICAEW’s Tech Faculty, says that the government’s ambition is welcome, and that the strategy is a good starting point. “The UK has a lot of expertise in AI already, which the strategy recognises and builds on. However, there is plenty of work to do to convert the ambition into action, especially in the regulatory space. There is also the question of funding and we’ll be watching the spending review closely to see whether there is new government investment to match the ambition.”

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