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UK leads in government AI readiness

The UK is one of the best placed in the world to take advantage of related technologies for public service delivery, according to a study

The country is one of the best placed in the world to take advantage of related technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), for public service delivery, according to a study.

Out of 194 countries measured by the Government AI readiness index, compiled by Oxford Insights in partnership with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Singapore topped the list, followed by the UK.

The report sought to assess the preparedness of national governments to take advantage of the benefits of AI in their operations and service delivery, based on 11 metrics under the clusters of governance, infrastructure and data, skills and education, and government and public services.

It notes that the UK’s position as regional leader has been cemented in part through the concerted policy efforts around AI in 2018, which have explained the national approach the technology, in addition to the AI Sector Deal, the multimillion-pound investment programme to position the UK as a leader in AI.

The UK aims to boost research and development funding in AI to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 also contributed to positioning it as a global leader in terms of AI readiness within government, according to the IDRC study, as well as the pledge to improve the pool of internal AI talent by funding 1,000 PhDs in AI at Imperial College London.

Collaboration has been a common characteristic when it comes to AI developments in Europe, the study added, citing examples such as the UK and France co-hosting tech events focused on AI, as well as the partnership between Imperial College London and the French National Centre for Scientific Research around AI-related research.

If 2019 sees as much progress in AI-related research, development and policy as 2018, the top positions in the index next year will likely remain dominated by countries such as the UK, the research predicted, but governments should now focus on “maintaining this momentum, and building on the strong progress they have made so far”.

With Brexit on the horizon, the research also noted that the UK should look into building additional bilateral relationships around AI research and policy to help maintain its leadership.

Digital secretary Jeremy Wright recently announced new appointments to the AI Council, a group led by the UK government which is expected to represent the AI sector internationally and put in place the “right skills and practices to make the most of data-driven technologies”.

“Britain is already a leading authority in AI,” said Wright. “We are home to some of the world’s finest academic institutions, landing record levels of investment to the sector and attracting the best global tech talent, but we must not be complacent.

Through our AI Council, we will continue this momentum by leveraging the knowledge of experts from a range of sectors to provide leadership on the best use and adoption of artificial intelligence across the economy.”

The research pointed out that higher income countries predictably are faring better than middle and lower income countries in terms of AI readiness in government. On average, North America performs better, while the worst performing regions are Africa and the Asia-Pacific.

According to the study, this is a reminder of the o ngoing inequality of access to AI, and that policymakers should act to ensure this is not further entrenched or exacerbated.

“Any action by governments, however, should be undertaken with great caution. If it is implemented without due care for ethics and safety, AI in public services could be at best ineffective, and at worst very dangerous,” the report noted.

As part of the UK government’s initiatives around AI, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) was set up earlier this year as an independent government advisory body to help organisations benefit from innovation in an ethical way.

According to CDEI chairman Roger Taylor, one of the reasons for creating an independent advisory body is that public confidence in the use of technologies such as AI is “absolutely essential”.

“For the public to have confidence in [technologies like AI], they actually have to be trustworthy, so [they must be] managed and governed in a way that it would be sensible to trust in them,” said Taylor.

Read more about AI in the UK government

  • Government boosts AI Council with new recruits from online-only retailer Ocado, the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, and the Alan Turing Institute.
  • In the final session of its enquiry into AI and the UK economy, a House of Lords select committee played host to scepticism about the so-called fourth industrial revolution.
  • The UK government is starting to put bodies behind its AI commentary as two departments announce job roles.

Read more on IT for government and public sector

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