UK government announces £1 billion AI Sector Deal

The government is pledging £300 million in new spending as part of its wider AI investment drive

Thomas McMullan Clare Hopping
26 Apr 2018
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The government is joining forces with the European, US and Japanese tech sector, together pledging £1 billion to drive AI research in the UK.

The AI Sector Deal comes against building international competition over the future direction of AI technology, particularly in regards to China's vast investment in the sector. It will be built up of £300 million in new government spending, coupled with £300 million in private investment and £400 million in previously announced state funding. 

“Artificial intelligence provides limitless opportunities to develop new, efficient and accessible products and services,” business secretary Greg Clark said in a statement.

The money will be spent on funding 1,000 PhDs related to AI by 2025 and the development of the Turing Fellowship programme, which has been set up to grow research talent in the UK. The funds will also go towards training 8,000 specialist computer science teachers for secondary schools across the UK.

"The UK must be at the forefront of emerging technologies, pushing boundaries and harnessing innovation to change people's lives for the better," Matt Hancock, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said. 

"Artificial intelligence is at the centre of our plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business. We have a great track record and are home to some of the world's biggest names in AI like Deepmind, Swiftkey and Babylon, but there is so much more we can do."

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Amongst the private entities involved in the government's plan is Canadian firm Chrysalix, which will invest £110 million in AI and robotics, and Japanese investors Global Brain, which will contribute £35 million to technology startups over the next five years. There are also undisclosed commitments from Microsoft, IBM and Facebook, as well as pharma company Pfizer and consultancy firm PwC.

A total £21 million of the government's funding will be handed to London startup promotion body Tech City UK – now Tech Nation  to spend on further developing startup hubs around the UK, a move first announced in last year's Budget, while £9 million will be spent on building a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, as announced in early 2017.

Gerard Grech, CEO Tech Nation, stressed that the UK must embrace and shape the future of AI, saying: "As a recognised global centre of AI expertise with companies like DeepMind, Improbable and 5AI, the UK is in a great position, and by building strong networks of shared knowledge and expertise, we can make it even stronger.

"Tech Nation cannot wait to get started on shaping its first programme for the UK's fastest-growing AI companies next year, which will help those who have proven their potential to reach the next level."

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Aside from the injection of cash, accounting software firm Sage will set up an AI pilot programme to educate young people about the opportunities in AI and teach them the skills they need to build up the UK's innovation footprint.

The AI Sector Deal forms part of the government’s strategy to invest in emerging tech around the UK. IT was highlighted as an integral part of the Artificial Intelligence Grand Challenge, a long-term plan to put the UK at the front of AI innovation.

Marc Waters, UK & Ireland MD at at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, one of the companies investing in the agreement, welcomed the deal and said: "The AI Sector Deal is a welcome and positive step forward for UK businesses and one that I believe moves the country closer toward achieving the UK's ambitious goals for an AI-powered future."

Tech industry representative body, TechUK, said the AI Sector Deal provides a "clear blueprint" for how the UK can become a leader in AI.

Antony Walker, deputy CEO of TechUK, said: “The UK has an impressive track-record on AI. But we must keep pace and scale of innovation continues to accelerate. The sector deal focuses on the key issues of maintaining leadership and driving uptake, building the skills pipeline and ethics. Success will depend upon AI companies being deeply engaged in the process.”