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Government promises £300m extra funding as part of £1bn AI sector deal

To become the number one destination for artificial intelligence, the UK needs more specialist skills, and a new injection of funding is aimed at boosting the country’s AI skills pool

The Alan Turing Institute and Rolls-Royce are among several UK-based organisations whose artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives have been highlighted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The research projects being run jointly by the Alan Turing Institute and Rolls-Royce are investigating several applications of data science and AI. In particular, the research will investigate how data analytics can be applied at scale, the application of AI across supply chains, data-centric engineering and predictive maintenance, and the role of data analytics and AI in science.

More than 50 businesses and organisations have contributed to the development of a £1bn AI sector deal to put the UK at the forefront of the AI industry, including almost £300m of new private sector investment, said the DCMS.

The AI sector deal is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, unveiled in November 2017, to establish partnerships between government and industry with the aim of increasing sector productivity.

Along with the £300m private sector investment, the government also said it would be extending its AI funding.

As Computer Weekly has reported previously, in March, the DCMS announced £300m funding for data science, with £210m being pumped into a “data to early diagnosis and precision medicine programme”, which aims to improve diagnosis and develop new medical technologies, diagnostic tools and products.

The government has now allocated a further £300m, which the DCMS said would be used to support new research projects to complement the new Centres for Doctoral Training.

The DCMS said the $1bn AI sector deal includes money for training 8,000 specialist computer science teachers, 1,000 government-funded AI PhDs by 2025 and a commitment to develop a prestigious global Turing Fellowship programme to attract and retain the best AI research talent to the UK.

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The aim of the 1,000 government-funded AI PhDs is to keep the UK at the forefront of innovation and build the country’s status as an AI research hotspot. However, the House of Lords’ recent report AI in the UK: ready, willing and able? urged the government to recognise the AI skills gap within its immigration policy.

The House of Lords select committee on AI recommended that the government should add machine learning and AI to the Tier 2 skills shortage list, rather than rely on an increase of 1,000 specialists at Tier 1.

Business secretary Greg Clark said: “Artificial intelligence provides limitless opportunities to develop new, efficient and accessible products and services that transform the way we live and work. Today’s new deal with industry will ensure we have the right investment, infrastructure and highly skilled workforce to establish the UK as a driving force in the development and commercial use of artificial intelligence technologies.”

The government hopes to grow an AI industry in the UK, which could be worth up to 10% of the country’s GDP by 2030.

Digital secretary Matt Hancock said: “The UK must be at the forefront of emerging technologies, pushing boundaries and harnessing innovation to change people’s lives for the better. Artificial intelligence is at the centre of our plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business. We have a great track record and are home to some of the world’s biggest names in AI, such as Deepmind, Swiftkey and Babylon, but there is so much more we can do.”

Commenting on the funding announcement, Dame Wendy Hall, who was involved in the House of Lords’ AI review, said: “We are at a pivotal point in the application of AI across many different sectors of industry and I truly believe the UK can take a leadership role in developing the use of AI in industry in a safe and ethical way that will be of benefit to everyone.”

Neil Crockett, chief digital officer at Rolls-Royce, said: “At Rolls-Royce, we believe that AI is central to unleashing huge value for our customers and from within our own business, and in achieving our goal of pioneering the power that matters.”

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