23 October 2021

UK Government Publishes National Artificial Intelligence Strategy

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The UK government has published its National AI Strategy, which outlines the government's plan for turning the UK into a global Artificial Intelligence (AI) powerhouse in the next ten years.
UK Intellectual Property
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The UK government has published its National AI Strategy, which outlines the government's plan for turning the UK into a global Artificial Intelligence (AI) powerhouse in the next ten years. This follows in the footsteps of earlier industrial and digital strategies published by the UK government which advocated for the adoption of AI. This announcement comes only a few months after the European Commission published its own comprehensive proposals for regulating AI technologies.

The strategy recognises the profound impact that AI will have on businesses worldwide, and aims to create a progressive and pro-innovation regulatory environment which will enable UK businesses in all sectors and regions to benefit from AI adoption and allow them to compete internationally.

The government's AI strategy will be articulated around three key principles:

  1. Investing in, and planning for, the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem, with the stated objective of making the UK a computer science and AI superpower.
  2. Supporting the transition to an AI-based economy.
  3. Taking an informed and balanced approach to regulating AI technologies, by encouraging innovation whilst protecting public and fundamental values.

Investing to harness the power of AI

The UK government has expressed its intention to encourage further investment in skills and resources with the aim of increasing innovation in the field of AI. However, the government does not commit to deploying additional public funds for the development of AI technologies, and does not specify how much funding the government might put into supporting the development of AI going forward (over £2.3 billion has been invested in the field of AI since 2014). As such, it appears that the implementation of the government's AI strategy will heavily rely on private investments (at least for the time being).

The government's plan to invest in AI technologies is instead centred around broad objectives, such as:

  • Continuing to develop, attract and train the best people to build and use AI technologies in the UK by: (i) granting additional government-backed fellowships and scholarships; (ii) revising immigration rules to encourage top AI talent from around the globe to come to the UK; (iii) delivering additional (and more relevant) training to the existing workforce, including those who would not have traditionally engaged with AI; and (iv) inspiring the public (including children) to interact with AI on a more regular basis.
  • Supporting the transformation of the UK's capability in AI by launching a National AI Research and Innovation (R&I) Programme, with the aim of: (i) discovering and developing new transformative AI technologies; (ii) encouraging the creativity of researchers and innovators; (iii) building new research and innovation capacity; (iv) building collaborative partnerships between and across sectors; and (v) supporting the adoption of AI technologies in the private sector.
  • Collaborating with foreign businesses and governments on the development, adoption and commercialisation of AI technologies. This will include collaboration with European nations through the 'Horizon Europe' initiative and with the United States through the implementation of the US-UK Declaration on Cooperation in AI Research and Development.
  • Unlocking access to high-quality data from which AI can learn which may include promoting 'data trusts' as a model of data stewardship and opening up access to certain data controlled by public institutions through the implementation of an 'open data' strategy.
  • Increasing the access to computing power, which is essential to the development and use of AI.
  • Encouraging private investments in AI technologies, noting that there is a funding gap for AI-focussed start-ups at Series B+ which prevents them from scaling up and staying under UK ownership.
  • Taking AI into account in the government's trade policies, by including provisions on emerging digital technologies, including AI so to secure new trade deals.

Transitioning to an AI-based economy

The UK government will encourage the design and development of the next generation of AI systems in the UK and will support UK businesses across sectors to adopt them on a larger scale. As part of this plan, the government intends to simplify the commercialisation of AI technologies by ensuring that inventors have the right tools to protect their intellectual property (IP), and by stimulating the demand for such technologies, which should in turn offer more insight for inventors to improve their capabilities.

The government also recognises the fact that AI technologies can be used for the good of the public and, in particular, can support the government's public health (as seen during the Covid-19 pandemic) and sustainability policies.

Finally, the government intends to realign public procurement policies to encourage the adoption of AI technologies throughout the public sector, thereby establishing the government as an important buyer of AI technologies.

Governing AI effectively

Whilst the UK government recognises the potential dangers of AI technologies and the need to protect the public, it states its intention to implement an effective governance regime that encourages scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to innovate. This proposed approach emphasises the government's position that less regulation will encourage innovation in the sector, and the intention to establish the UK as a 'safe harbour' for the development of AI technologies. The government views AI as a sector of major economic competitive advantage for the UK.

This position is in contrast with the European Commission's own position on AI regulation, outlined in its recent proposals in which it proposes to strictly regulate certain types of 'high risk' AI technologies.

The UK government's approach to regulating AI technologies is, again, articulated around key principles such as:

  • Considering the implementation of AI-specific, sector-agnostic regulations which the government will outline in a White Paper to be published in early 2022.
  • Revising the UK data protection regime to acknowledge the importance of access to personal data to support the development of AI technologies.
  • Encouraging cooperation amongst various regulators, including the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Office of Communications (Ofcom), to adopt a unified approach to regulating AI technologies.
  • Promoting the UK's proposed approach to regulating AI technologies to international partners, thereby preventing divergence and friction whilst guarding against abuse of the technology.
  • Positioning the UK as a leading authority to implement global technical standards for AI technologies.
  • Using the public sector as an example to demonstrate the ethical yet effective use of AI technologies.
  • Continually assessing and tracking the long-term risks associated with the development and exploitation of AI technologies.

Next steps

In the near future, the UK government intends to publish a plan to execute its strategy, as well as establishing mechanisms that will monitor and assess the progress it has made in delivering its strategy. The government also plans to obtain feedback from the AI community on the use of AI in the UK to enable it to track advancements and identify any shortcomings in its plans and/or strategies.

Originally published 20 October, 2021

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