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Government bulks up on AI personnel

The UK government is starting to put bodies behind its artificial intelligence commentary as two departments announce job roles

The government is starting to put some heft behind its promotion of artificial intelligence (AI) as an engine of future economic growth for a post-Brexit UK.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are establishing a joint Office for Artificial Intelligence, for which they are now recruiting.

The two departments are together recruiting a deputy director, head of office for AI on a salary between £65,000 and £80,000.

The role is being linked to the 2017 Budget and the government’s industrial strategy, announced on 27 November. Chancellor Philip Hammond announced a £500m technology investment in the Budget, while the Industrial Strategy turns on the harnessing of advanced IT, such as AI, machine learning and data analytics.

The government is also intent on appointing a chairperson for an Interim Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. The job announcement said: “Increasingly sophisticated algorithms can glean powerful insights, which can be deployed in ways that influence or even manipulate the decisions we make, or target the services and resources we receive. Moreover, new economic models are emerging, with data at their core, giving rise to questions around how we best incentivise and facilitate innovative, efficient and fair use of data.

“Our task is to harness this technology for the common good: to promote its benefits, support innovation, and mitigate the risks so it works for all.

“This is why, at Autumn Budget 2017, the UK government announced the creation of a new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. The centre will advise on the measures we need to enable and support safe, ethical and ground-breaking innovation in AI and data-driven technologies.”

AI also had a central place in prime minister Theresa May’s speech at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The speech was, according to The Guardian, sparsely attended. Delegates from the global elite had expected a speech about Brexit.

Read more about the UK government and artificial intelligence

In her speech, May said the UK is already a world leader in AI research and development, and the country is prepared to “bring AI into government”.

“We are only at the beginning of what AI could achieve,” said May, adding that a new AI startup is created every week in the UK.

By contrast, the House of Lords select committee on AI took testimony in its final session last year counselling against a “nationalist” appropriation of the technology, and against over-hyping it.

David Edgerton, a historian at King’s College, London, and author of The shock of the old: technology and global history since 1900, said the UK needs to “be careful about nationalistic approaches” that would put the UK in competition with other countries in terms of “what we can get out of AI”.

Edgerton noted that the government is looking to gain an economic advantage from AI in divergence from the European Union, based on the idea that the UK has some comparative advantage in AI.

The House of Lords committee held 12 public evidence sessions that ran from 12 October to 19 December 2017, and its report is being prepared. .....................................................................................................................

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