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Culture secretary Wright hails Tech Nation AI growth programme at CogX

Jeremy Wright, DCMS secretary of state, urges artificial intelligence tech firm founders to step forward for Tech Nation’s Applied AI growth programme, while McKinsey offers qualified endorsement of UK AI optimism

Jeremy Wright, secretary of state for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), hailed a Tech Nation Applied AI growth programme at the CogX festival at the King’s Cross shopping and eating complex in London yesterday (11 June 2019).

Wright, speaking on the second day of the event organised by the CognitionX “knowledge network”, co-founded by Charlie Muirhead and Tabitha Goldstaub, said: “I would encourage all socially minded tech firms to apply for Tech Nation’s new AI [artificial intelligence] programme that will help tech founders develop a clear vision to solve real-world problems and create positive social impact by applying artificial intelligence.”

The programme, which successful applicants will begin in September, will “primarily serve as a practical network for founders, facilitating peer-to-peer learning across the C-suite”, according to a statement released by the Tech Nation networking organisation. It is called Applied AI 1.0, and will get guidance from the UK government’s Office for Artificial Intelligence, chaired by Goldstaub.

Tech Nation said it was “looking for founders who have a clear vision for how their products solve real problems, and who are applying artificial intelligence in practical areas to create real-world impact”.

A panel of judges will select the successful programme participants. The panel includes Wendy Hall, regius professor of computer science at the University of Southampton; Mike Short, chief scientific advisor at the Department for International Trade; and Angie Ma, co-founder and chief operating officer at AI and data science consulting and software firm Faculty.

Tech Nation is looking for founders who have a clear vision for how their products solve real problems, and who are applying artificial intelligence in practical areas to create real-world impact

The founders selected will get access to sessions that focus on key scaling challenges, identified through conversations with founders and venture capital investors. These sessions will be delivered by later-stage or exited entrepreneurs who have a proven track record of success. The programme will host a series of curated dinners and networking events to help facilitate tailored connections to industry experts, journalists, government and investors. There will also be an opportunity to join an international trip.

Tech Nation said the programme was being launched in the context of the AI sector in the UK going from strength to strength. “From mid-2015 onwards, AI deals started to outpace the wider tech economy. Some 70% of all AI deals completed globally in the last decade were completed in the last three years. One of the biggest AI fund raises of 2018 was Graphcore, the Bristol startup, which raised $200m from a consortium of investors. Other UK AI companies which raised funds in 2018 include Renalytix AI, a developer of AI for kidney disease diagnosis, which raised $29m through an AIM flotation; healthtech company Medopad ($26m); and HR software company, Beamery ($28m),” it said.

In support of the programme, the minister for digital and creative industries, Margot James, said: “Britain has a long history as a global leader in computing technologies which led to the birth of artificial intelligence. Through our modern Industrial Strategy we are delivering a Britain that works for everyone and one that is a world leader in data-driven technologies. Tech Nation’s Applied AI programme will help nurture some of our most talented entrepreneurs who use AI to improve people’s lives. I encourage anyone with the talent, ideas and aptitude to apply.”

McKinsey on UK AI

To coincide with London Tech Week – the umbrella event of which the CogX “festival of AI and emerging technology” is part – the McKinsey Global Institute published a “briefing note” which offered a qualified endorsement of the optimism that Tech Nation and the government express with respect to UK artificial intelligence.

McKinsey’s Artificial intelligence in the United Kingdom: prospects and challenges paper said that while “no other country comes close to the US and China, the world’s powers in the deployment of AI, the UK is one of Europe’s leaders”.

“The UK,” it further said, “leads in Europe for the density of AI startups launched in the areas of health and medical technology; indeed, the government is attempting to scale up the opportunity by launching a ‘grand challenge’ for better medical research and for improved diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases. Nevertheless, these are early days for AI adoption, and there are questions about how large the potential could be and what portion the country is likely to capture in economic gains and beyond.”  

The strategy firm’s research arm estimates that the UK economy “could see an uplift of about 22% of current GDP by 2030”, which it said would be a “welcome boost”, given its “weak recent record on productivity growth”.

The “briefing note” registered the UK’s pockets of innovation, its “significant pool of AI talent”, and its “top AI centres in universities including Cambridge and Oxford”. It noted the UK government’s £1bn package to support AI in higher education and business.

But it also stated that the UK was “failing to scale” and that China’s strategic push into AI was aimed at making it world-leading by 2030, with a £115bn market by 2020. Some 35 Chinese universities are setting up four-year undergraduate AI courses and the country is also putting in place 100 joint degree courses.

“The future of AI in the UK is yet to be written,” wrote the authors of McKinsey briefing note authors. “Diffusion and adoption are still at relatively early stages, but there is already evidence on the ground of the transformational change – both within organisations and in the economy as a whole – that these technologies can bring. A concerted, joined-up, and forward-looking effort from businesses, academia, and the government can ensure that the UK maintains and builds on its leading-edge capabilities, and successfully diffuses AI and its benefits across business.”

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