On 6 January 2021 the UK Government published an independent report on AI carried out by the AI Council (an independent expert committee set up to advise UK Government and ‘provide high-level leadership of the AI ecosystem’). The report contains 16 recommendations setting out both long-term ambitions and near-term directions for all government departments, with the aim of advancing the UK National AI Strategy. The recommendations fall under four key pillars, which form the roadmap for the UK’s future in AI:
(i) research, development and innovation: funding AI and in particular the Alan Turing Institute, securing access to global talent, and ensuring that ‘moonshots’ advance and leverage AI and the key challenges it presents;
(ii) skills and diversity: commitment to an ongoing 10 year programme of high level AI skill building, prioritising diversity and inclusion through data-led decisions, and achieving AI and data literacy for all;
(iii) data, infrastructure and public trust: increasing access to data for AI, leading the development of standards for future governance of data, and ensuring public trust through public scrutiny; and
(iv) national, cross-sector adoption: increasing buyer confidence and AI capability, supporting local initiatives and the UK’s AI start-up vendor community, enabling public sector investment in and intelligent procurement of AI, and using AI to help address issues of climate change, national security and healthcare.
The report calls on the government to build a UK National AI strategy and has two key underlying messages: First, the UK needs to double its efforts on recent investment in AI, pushing for scale and reliability in areas of unique advantage. Second, it must look to the future and ensure it is adaptable to disruption. This involves planning ahead (10-50 years ahead), remaining at the forefront of AI development and integrating approaches to ethics, security and social impacts into that planning and development. To fully benefit from AI, the AI Council recognises that society as a whole must have confidence both in the science and technology, and in the enabling governance and regulation of AI.
The report emphasises the importance of government supporting the UK to be not just a leader in the advancement of AI, but a leader in the development of safe and responsible AI, for which there are clear and measurable standards. The stakes are high, with estimates showing that AI could deliver a 10% increase in UK GDP by 2030. But there are many factors which will determine if this potential is realised. In such a fast-paced area of development, the key will be seeing how the government, and (in turn) organisations operating in the AI sector, implement these recommendations in a way that encourages responsible development, without chilling innovation.