On March 12, 2021, United Kingdom's (UK) Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden announced the UK's forthcoming National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Strategy as he set out his Ten Tech Priorities. The Strategy, which is due to be published later this year, will seek to establish the UK as a global centre for the development, commercialisation and adoption of responsible AI.

Focusing on AI appears to be one of the priorities for the UK government. According to the Global AI Index developed by Tortoise Media (reportedly the first index to benchmark nations on their level of investment, innovation and implementation of AI), the UK is ranked third, after the United States and China. In 2020, UK firms that were adopting or creating AI-based technologies received £1.78 billion (approx. US$2.45 billion) in funding, according to the CEO of Tech Nation, a UK-government backed initiative assisting tech companies.

The AI Strategy likely seeks to further capitalise upon this potential, by using AI to create new jobs, improve productivity, tackle climate change and deliver better public services in a way that is both "globally ambitious and socially inclusive."

The new AI Strategy will focus on:

  • Growth of the economy through widespread use of AI technologies.
  • Ethical, safe and trustworthy development of responsible AI.
  • Resilience in the face of change through an emphasis on skills, talent and research & development (R&D).1

The announcement and development of the AI Strategy takes up a recommendation by the UK AI Council (an expert committee advising the UK government on the AI ecosystem) set out in its AI Roadmap dated January 6, 2021, which called for the development of such a strategy.

That follows in the footsteps of the European Commission, who produced a White Paper on AI in February 2020 (see our post here). Where the European Union (EU) White Paper looks "towards an ecosystem for excellence and trust" in AI policy and regulation, so too does the UK's AI Roadmap. These strategies follow on from the respective EU and UK drives towards strategising on Big Data (see our post on the UK's National Data Strategy and the EU's Digital Services Act package).

The UK AI Council has welcomed the UK government's adoption of the AI Strategy, which the AI Roadmap describes as essential in prioritising and setting out a time frame for implementation of the Roadmap's aims.

The aims of the AI Roadmap are twofold. First, the AI Roadmap states that it is necessary to "double-down" on recent investments that the UK has made in AI, in a call for continued funding of the area. The second principle underpinning the AI Roadmap advocates that support for AI should reflect the rapidity with which the science and technology in AI are developing, in order to be adaptable to disruption. The approach is one that seeks to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of integrating approaches to ethics, security and social impacts in the development of AI in coming decades. This is seen as a necessary step to foster "full confidence in AI across society."

Accordingly, the AI Roadmap sets out 16 recommendations to help the UK government develop an AI Strategy, split into four pillars. One of the pillars focuses on "Data, Infrastructure and Public Trust". In that context, the recommendations set out in the AI Roadmap are that  the UK should lead in developing appropriate standards to frame the future governance of data, and that it should also lead in finding ways to enable public scrutiny of automated decision-making and to ensure the public can trust AI.

The other pillars focus on "Research, Development and Innovation"; "Skills and Diversity"; and "National, Cross-sector Adoption", in particular in the health care industry, climate change and defense and security.

It remains to be seen how the AI Roadmap's recommendations will be reflected in the AI Strategy. We are following closely what further law and regulation on AI may be developed in that context.


1. The UK sees a boost in R&D investment through the government's Research and Development Roadmap to reach 2.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2027.

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