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Government puts artificial intelligence on the agenda

Government digital strategy’s plans to boost the artificial intelligence industry include a £17m fund to support new technological developments

The government digital strategy will set out funding proposals to support the development of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

The strategy, due to be launched on Wednesday 1 March by the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS), will include plans for several initiatives to support the growth of AI in the UK.

These will include a review of AI, led by Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, and Jérôme Pesenti, CEO of BenevolentTech, which will look at the “critical elements for the exciting technology to thrive and grow in the UK”, according to the strategy.

The review will also look at how government and industry can join forces, which could ultimately lead to a “sector deal”.

As well as a review, the government will also announce £17.3m funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to support the development of robotics and AI in universities.

Culture secretary Karen Bradley said the UK is already a pioneer “in today’s artificial intelligence revolution” and that the strategy “will build on our strengths to make sure UK-based scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs continue to be at the forefront”.

“Technologies like AI have the potential to transform how we live, work, travel and learn,” she said.

“It’s great that government and industry will be working together to drive growth in the sector, to realise all the economic and social benefits for the UK.”

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The government’s digital strategy builds on its industrial strategy, published earlier this year, which aims to create a prosperous post-Brexit Britain by developing Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills, investments in science and innovation, and infrastructure upgrades.

Business secretary Greg Clark said investments in technologies such as AI and robotics will “help make our economy more competitive, build on our world-leading reputation in these cutting-edge sectors and help us create new products, develop more innovative services and establish better ways of doing business”.

He added: “Innovation is at the heart of our industrial strategy and the launch of the government’s digital strategy underlines our commitment to this vital sector. By supporting British businesses and investing in dynamic fields such as robotics and AI, we will help to put the UK at the forefront of global innovation.”

According to research by Accenture, the AI sector could add about £654bn to the UK economy by 2035.

The IT service’s report Technology Vision 2017 found that technology enhancements that change the way people live and work will dominate the agendas of IT departments over the next three years.

“Artificial intelligence is coming of age, tackling problems both big and small by making interactions simple and smart,” the report said. “AI is becoming the new user interface, underpinning the way we transact and interact with systems.”

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