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AI and other tech key to post-Brexit success, says Matt Hancock

Digital secretary Matt Hancock highlights the importance of emerging technologies to the future of the UK at the opening of London’s cyber security innovation centre

Seizing new technology can be the basis of the UK’s success after Brexit and the rest of the 21st century, according to digital secretary Matt Hancock.

“I profoundly believe that cutting-edge technology, coupled with creative and artistic genius, is the fulcrum on which our country will be built,” he said at the opening of London’s £13.5m government-funded cyber innovation centre.

The centre, to be known as the London Office for Rapid Cybersecurity Advancement (Lorca), is located at the Here East digital and creative campus on the site of London’s Olympic Park.

It will be run by Plexal, which operates the capital’s largest innovation space and specialises in helping high-tech startups in artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and the internet of things (IoT).

“We now have the chance to build on what we have done over the past decade and truly capitalise on this opportunity. Cutting-edge technology is ultimately the future of our economy,” said Hancock.

“We’re in a good place. Investment in the tech sector doubled in the past year, and is growing at three times the pace of the rest of the economy. We have created more jobs than ever before and employment rates are at record highs.”

However, Hancock said there are “understandable concerns” that these technologies will undermine jobs and prosperity, but the risk is not in adopting new technologies that will change jobs. “The risk is that we don’t adopt new technologies and that we fail to create the jobs of the future,” he added.

The cyber security industry is a case in point, he said, pointing out that the UK is in a good position to capitalise on this growing international market with the world’s highest investment in tech after the US and China and London, again this year, ranking as the leading tech hub in Europe.

“It’s not just London, of course. Nearly 70% of investment in the UK tech industry last year was outside the capital. This spark of creativity and innovation is fuelling remarkable economic growth,” said Hancock.

Pointing to the fact that unemployment is at a 40-year low, the UK is seeing the first sustained fall in debt in a generation, the economy has grown every single quarter for more than twenty quarters, income inequality is falling and real wages are beginning to rise, Hancock said these advances are only happening if the UK seizes the opportunities that new technologies provide.

He said the government supports the development of the internet of things (IoT), distributed ledger technologies, quantum computing and artificial intelligence (AI).

Focusing on AI, Hancock said what makes AI so revolutionary is that it learns itself and gets better every single day, adding that “just as AI itself is adapting every day, our economy and society is adapting too, and must adapt so we can make the most of this seismic change.”

Noting that all great advances in the human condition have been led by improvements in knowledge and collective intelligence, Hancock said the next advance will differ only in that the intelligence is not just in the connection of human minds.

“Whether it’s improving travel, making banking easier or helping people live longer, AI is already integral to our economy and our society,” he said.

“We are known across the world as a place where AI can thrive because we are a nation with firm ethical principles, a mature regime for data protection and privacy, and the confidence offered by strong cyber security and partnership between government, businesses and academia.”

Debating AI ethics

According to Hancock, the UK is gearing up to take advantage of AI by starting the debate on the big ethical questions through the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, chaired by Roger Taylor.

“Britain is already an authority in AI. We have the world’s best AI company, Deepmind, and we are recognised by the OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] for leading in the use of AI in government. But we need to keep looking forward,” he said.

“We can only say that we’ve truly succeeded if we use this exciting technology to tackle the long-term issues that are shaping our world today.”

He said this was the “driving force” behind the four Grand Challenges [including AI and data], set out by the prime minister as part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

“Through the Grand Challenges, we will work with businesses and academics across the country to make the UK world-leaders in the development of new technologies.

“The Grand Challenges ask us, and I ask you, to rise the challenge of how we unlock the potential of the data-driven economy and place the UK at its forefront,” said Hancock.

He said the first mission, as part of this AI Grand Challenge, is to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of a number of diseases and making sure that the data is both secure and held in a way that enhances privacy is mission critical to enhancing the use of health data.

“As AI and data becomes more sophisticated and more accurate, there are huge opportunities to make the impossible possible and save lives,” said Hancock, adding that the government’s ambition is to be able to diagnose cancer at a much earlier stage of at least 50,000 people a year within 15 years.

“We want to use digitisation and cloud-based solutions to help data scientists to develop new algorithms to fight disease. Critical to that mission, we will be opening up NHS data sets, properly safeguarded, to train the intelligence – both artificial and medical – in how to solve these problems,” he said.

Ultimately, Hancock said AI will transform lives like never before. “We want it to transform society for the better and for it to be designed and developed right here in the UK.

“As we leave the EU, what better way to show that we are an open and outward looking nation than becoming the natural habitat for the world’s most cutting-edge technology?”

Hancock said the government cannot solve all of today’s problems alone. “We need the best possible AI leadership, working together, to steer a course through technologies that, by their very nature, are complex and changing every single day. Your work at the cyber innovation centre will be vital.”

Read more about AI and security

Hancock then announced that a world-leading entrepreneur, a world-leading communicator and a world-leading academic will be working with government to lend their expertise and their vision in the field of AI.

First is world-renowned AI expert and co-founder of DeepMind Demis Hassabis, who will be working as an adviser to the government’s Office for AI. Second is co-author of the AI Review Wendy Hall, who will be working with government as its skills champion. Third is Tabitha Goldstaub, who will be heading up the AI Council that will help coordinate industry, universities and government activity to get the best possible value from AI.

“They have the expertise and vision to help us make sure the huge benefits of this powerful new technology can be harnessed for the good of humanity,” said Hancock.

“Building on the world-leading National Cyber Security Centre, this cyber innovation centre will do vital work in fostering the new products that keep us more secure online.

“I’m thrilled to be here opening the centre today and I can’t wait to see what you develop. Our role is creating the environment for you to thrive.

“It’s only through government, academia, startups and established industry working together that we will ensure our cyber defences stay ahead of our adversaries. The London cyber innovation centre, like its sister centre in Cheltenham, will help us to do just that.

“This work is vital if we are to retain our place as a world-leading tech nation. The great power of artificial intelligence relies on data, and the security of our data is mission critical to its effective use.”

Hancock said everyone has a role to play: governments to put in place the right rules, funding and frameworks; researchers to create those historic breakthroughs to push the boundaries of what is possible; and businesses, the digital dynamos, to help us solve the problems that face the world.

“This new centre will do that. Everyone has their part to play so that we can be world leaders, so we can have the skills, the security and the innovation to go from strength to strength. We, in government, are determined to support you to make that happen,” he said.

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