Chancellor uses Tory Party conference speech to announce AI scholarships

Artificial intelligence holds the key to unlocking productivity, and developing the right skills to harness this potential was one of the focal points at the Tory Party conference

During his speech at the Tory Party conference in Manchester, chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to build out the UK’s expertise in artificial intelligence (AI).

Sunak said AI was once regarded as the stuff of science fiction, but “now it’s reality and we are a global leader”.

Positioning AI as a revolution akin to what the invention of the steam engine brought about, he said: “The steam engine kicked off the industrial revolution, computers delivered automation, the internet brought information exchange and, as the latest general-purpose technology, AI has the potential to transform whole economies and society.”

Discussing the potential of AI to boost the economy, Sunak said: “If artificial intelligence were to contribute just the average productivity of those three technologies, that would be worth over £200bn a year to our economy.”

The chancellor used his speech to announce 2,000 new elite AI scholarships for disadvantaged young people, doubling the number of Turing Institute research fellows. He said the funding will help to ensure that the most exciting industries and opportunities are open to all parts of society, as part of new policies focused on innovative technology supporting jobs for the next generation.

Last month, to tie in with London Tech Week, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) unveiled a 10-year strategy to boost corporate adoption of AI technologies. The strategy has three key pillars: to ensure investment in the long-term growth of AI, to bring benefits to all sectors and regions of the economy, and effective governance with rules that “encourage innovation, investment and protect the public and the country’s fundamental values”.

The strategy includes the launch of a new national programme and approach to support research and development. This is expected to improve coordination and collaboration between researchers and boost the UK’s AI capabilities, while encouraging business and the public sector to fully adopt AI technologies. According to the DCMS, the UK has invested more than £2.3bn into AI since 2014.

Earlier this year, the government announced the Turing AI Fellowships, a £46m initiative aimed at attracting and maintaining the best talent in AI. And at the start of October, the Turing Institute announced the appointment of more than 400 new Turing fellows from across the institute’s 13 university partners, following a call earlier this year.

The research expertise of the new fellows ranges from law, politics, humanities, criminology, linguistics and classics to earth sciences, sociology, pathology, neuroscience, transport, astronomy and ecology.

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