UK Digital Strategy – Importance of AI to the UK Government

The UK Digital Strategy has been published. As the former Crown Rep for SME (and CognitionX Advisor) it was a pleasure to review the announcement for you and summarise the relevant AI elements. I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.


Artificial Intelligence appears several times in the report alongside many other measures to help the digital economy grow. Most significant is the announcement of a review  by Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and Jerome Pesenti, Chief Executive of BenevolentTech, a London based unicorn, who will report on how the UK can create the conditions for the artificial intelligence industry to thrive and grow.

The UK Government is putting some more money into AI research in 2 areas. A total  of £17.3 million in  Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grants will be given to support the development of new Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI) technologies in UK Universities.

One project, led by the University of Manchester, will develop robotics technologies capable of operating autonomously and effectively within hazardous environments such as nuclear facilities, while researchers at Imperial College London will look to make major advances in the field of surgical micro-robotics.

This funding also includes £6.5 million capital investment to support further collaboration within the UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems (UK-RAS) Network. This will enable the UK’s robotics and artificial intelligence researchers to accelerate the translation of fundamental research into enabling technologies and promote cross-sector growth.The BBC commented that given the importance of AI, this was not very much money. It complements the further £35m secured by the Turing Institute one of whose focus areas is AI.


They also announced that there is further funding to come from the newly created Industrial Strategy Fund which will help the UK capitalise on its strengths in science and innovation. The Fund will back technologies at all stages, from early research to commercialisation, AI is expected to be included once a consultation on focus areas is concluded.

Connected and autonomous vehicles have previously been selected as a big area for funding but no further funds were announced in the Digital Strategy.

Big data and data science featured with a whole section covering the topic. More data than ever is being produced and they claim that the UK is at the forefront of data innovation. They note that Data analytics is a fast moving area and they are committed to keeping the UK at the leading edge of new developments, whilst putting in place the necessary protections to ensure data is kept safe and used appropriately.  There are shortages however of data scientists and other AI specialists.. Four out of five companies are struggling to find the talent they need and two thirds of data-driven companies have experienced difficulty in filling at least one vacancy when they have tried to recruit data analysts. This shortage of data talent has direct and serious economic implications, and addressing this shortfall, they recognise, should be a strategic priority.

Digital sector companies employ around 80,000 people from other European Union countries, out of the total 1.4 million people working in our digital sectors. The government has been clear that it wants to continue to attract the brightest and best to study and work in Britain after we leave the EU. The Prime Minister has said that she wants the UK to be a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead, and that openness to international talent must remain one of this country’s most distinctive assets. The UK recognises the importance which the technology sector attaches to being able to recruit highly skilled staff from the EU and around the world. They also recognise that digital businesses are concerned about the future status of their current staff who are EU nationals. Securing the status of, and providing certainty to, EU nationals already in the UK and to UK nationals in the EU is one of this Government’s early priorities for the forthcoming negotiations.

In recognition of the importance of data handling and data analytical skills to the digital economy, the government will work with the industry-led Data Skills Taskforce to help implement key elements of the Analytic Britain report produced by Nesta and Universities UK, which provides a number of proposals to raise levels of data analysis education and skills provision in the UK.

Being ever-cognizant of the fears people have regarding AI, they said that “as the use of AI increases, we need to carefully consider how to ensure that the technology is not producing outcomes that discriminate unfairly or make judgmental, prejudicial or dangerous decisions. We must ensure citizens and businesses can trust the outcomes of processes that use AI technology.”


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  1. Jaafar 1 year ago

    In the mid 60’s the US government granted $300M to IBM to develop computer technology. The budget in the UK was £50k for all universities in the country at that time! The government is still trying to make something out of nothing, apparently.

  2. Rose Luckin 1 year ago

    Very useful summary – many thanks Stephen. Agree about insufficient resources – but ever was it so. Fortunately, the UK seems to manage well on less funding than elsewhere which makes you wonder what we could do with more 😉

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