- The so-called "National Artificial Intelligence Strategy" is designed to boost the use of AI among the nation's businesses, attract international investment into British AI companies and develop the next generation of homegrown tech talent.
- Beth Singler, an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge who studies AI and robots, told CNBC that the U.K. is increasingly trying to find specialist areas where it can compete against much larger states in a post-Brexit world.
- Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt warned in March that China could soon replace the U.S. as the world's number one AI superpower, noting there are serious military implications to consider.
LONDON — The U.K. government on Wednesday released its 10-year plan to make the country a global "artificial intelligence superpower", seeking to rival the likes of the U.S. and China.
The so-called "National Artificial Intelligence Strategy" is designed to boost the use of AI among the nation's businesses, attract international investment into British AI companies and develop the next generation of homegrown tech talent.
"Today we're laying the foundations for the next ten years' growth with a strategy to help us seize the potential of artificial intelligence and play a leading role in shaping the way the world governs it," Chris Philp, a minister of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said in a statement.
The National AI Strategy includes a number of programs, reports and initiatives.
Among them, a new National AI Research and Innovation program will be launched as part of an effort to improve coordination and collaboration between the country's researchers.
Elsewhere, another program will specifically aim to support AI development outside London and Southeast England, where much of the nation's AI efforts are currently concentrated.
The government said it may allocate more investment and resources to industries that aren't yet taking full advantage of AI, such as energy and farming.
There will also be a review into the availability and capacity of computing power for U.K. researchers and organizations, the government said, while a consultation on copyrights and patents for AI will aim to assess whether the U.K. is capitalizing on ideas.
Reaction to the plan
"It seems like the sort of semi-sensible waffle this sort of strategy document always involves," said one AI researcher from a Big Tech company who asked to remain anonymous because they weren't authorized to speak to the media.
"The devil is in the details," they added. "Will the government make it easier to get top PhD students, postdocs, and junior faculty into our universities? Currently they aren't. Will there be a greater push to competitively fund public universities to retain or acquire top-tier faculty at all levels of seniority? Will there be a more clement tax system for low earners, as people involved in spinouts and start-ups often are, for a few years? Currently it's just got more expensive with the AI hike."
The AI researcher said that in recent years it seems as though the government has done more to destroy what makes the U.K. an appealing seat for research and entrepreneurship than they have to incentivize it.
"I'm optimistic that the plan could activate the U.K.'s AI potential," Nathan Benaich, a venture capitalist at Air Street Capital, said. "To truly excel, the country should focus on domains of applied scientific research such as life sciences, energy, and cyber security, where it already has world-leading capabilities."
Beth Singler, an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge who studies AI and robots, told CNBC that the U.K. is increasingly trying to find specialist areas where it can compete against much larger states in a post-Brexit world.
"With AI, some might see our experience with tech regulation and ethical debates as a strong USP for our AI agenda," Singler said. "But is competition with the U.S. or China even the best framework or narrative for the overall progress of AI? I will watch the planned ethical structures that come out of this 10-year vision with interest, but we should also be careful not to buy into our own narratives of UK-exceptionalism because we have previously produced some of the key figures in the history of AI."
Seb Krier, a senior policy researcher at the Stanford Cyber research center, said via Twitter that there are some "very promising" aspects to the National AI Strategy, while DeepMind COO Lila Ibrahim said it's good to see a clear focus on effective governance of the technology, adding that it's vital to earn public and business trust in AI.
U.S. and China
Between 1998 and 2017, the U.S. filed more AI patent applications than any other country, with around 50,000 applications submitted, according to data from the World Intellectual Property Organization. Next was China, with around 41,000 over the same time period, while the U.K. filed less than 2,000.
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt warned in March that China could soon replace the U.S. as the world's number one AI superpower, noting there are serious military implications to consider.
"America is not prepared to defend or compete in the AI era," Schmidt said, alongside a group of experts in a National Security Commission on AI. "This is the tough reality we must face."
The launch of the National AI Strategy comes after the U.K. government allowed tech giants in the U.S. and Asia to snap up some of Britain's most innovative AI companies.
DeepMind, a research-focused firm in London that's widely seen as one of the world leading AI labs, was sold to Google in 2014 for around $600 million. Elsewhere, Magic Pony Technologies was sold to Twitter, VocalIQ was sold to Apple and Evi Technologies was sold to Amazon. Meanwhile, Japan's SoftBank acquired Arm, whose chip designs are used to power many of today's AI applications.
In 2019, £2.5 billion ($3.5 billion) was pumped into U.K. AI start-ups, but many of them are now at risk of being acquired by larger overseas rivals.
Big Tech is snapping up smaller rivals at a record pace, according to a report from the Financial Times published on Sunday that's based on data from Refinitiv. Indeed, Big Tech have spent $264 billion on potential rivals worth less than $1 billion since the start of the year.