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UK announces £1b drive into artificial intelligence

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Antony Phillipson, the UK Trade Commissioner for North America and Consul General in New York, said in an interview ahead of the announcement that the UK could not compete with China in terms of total funding or scale of some government-run AI projects.

[LONDON] US tech giants, European telecoms firms, Japanese venture capital and the UK government has put together a 1 billion pounds (S$1.85 billion) investment into the UK artificial intelligence industry, as governments weigh how to compete with China.

The deal comprises a total of 300 million pounds of private financing, 300 million pounds of new government spending in addition to 400 million pounds the state has already announced.

"Artificial intelligence provides limitless opportunities to develop new, efficient and accessible products and services," business secretary Greg Clark said in an emailed statement Thursday.

In prioritising AI, Britain joins several other nations that see the emerging technology as central to their future place in the world, such as China, which last year set a goal of becoming the world leader in AI by 2030.

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Antony Phillipson, the UK Trade Commissioner for North America and Consul General in New York, said in an interview ahead of the announcement that the UK could not compete with China in terms of total funding or scale of some government-run AI projects.

Instead though, he said, Britain could be at the forefront of discussions around ethics, safety and regulation.

The European Commission said Wednesday it needs to invest at least 20 billion euros (S$32 billion) in artificial intelligence research by 2020 and should pledge the same amount each year.

As part of the UK government's programme, Canadian VC firm Chrysalix will set up a UK office and invest 110 million pounds in AI and robotics. Japan's Global Brain, which has invested in similar businesses, will open a European headquarters in the UK and invest 35 million pounds in technology startups over the next five years.

Microsoft Corp, International Business Machines Corp, and Facebook Inc are also making undisclosed commitments, along with consulting firm PwC and pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc.

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY

As part of the deal, the University of Cambridge has agreed to open an AI supercomputer worth 10 million pounds, and make it available for businesses to use. The government said it will fund 1,000 new PhD places for those working on AI and related subjects, and train 8,000 new computer science teachers for UK secondary schools.

It is also investing 9 million pounds in a new Center for Data Ethics and Innovation at the Alan Turing Institute, which will research principles and codes of conduct for AI safety and ethical use of machine learning. Rolls Royce Holdings Plc will jointly run these projects with the institute.

"If we are going to maximise the opportunity of innovation in these sectors, you need the right balance between innovation and regulation," said Phillipson, adding that the new centre at the Alan Turing Institute would help advise regulators on how to strike this balance.

He also pointed to research from a government-appointed committee lead by Wendy Hall, a well-known computer scientist from the University of Southampton, that AI could add 654 billion pounds to the UK economy by 2035.

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