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Alan Turing Institute unveils strategy to support UK AI

The strategy is built around helping the UK government realise its artificial intelligence ambitions, and focuses on areas where the UK can play a transformative role in shaping AI development

The Alan Turing Institute has unveiled a new strategy for how data science and artificial intelligence (AI) can be used for social good in support of the government’s ambitions for the technology, with a focus on health, the environment and national security.

The strategy, dubbed Turing 2.0, is aimed at helping deliver the UK government’s national AI strategy, a 10-year plan launched in September 2021 that outlines the government’s approach to AI through the 2020s, and which aims to drive corporate adoption of the technology, boost skills and attract more international investment.

The strategy’s publication closely follows the government’s announcement of a £370m Science and Technology Framework, which will provide funding for technologies such as AI, quantum computing and engineering biology.

Given the rapid pace of technological development, the institute said it was seeking to “provide an end-to-end, interdisciplinary pathway” in data science and artificial intelligence that enables impact at scale.

“We want to harness the data science and AI revolution and direct its energy towards solving some of the thorniest challenges we face as a society,” said the institute’s director and chief executive, Adrian Smith.

“We want to be interdisciplinary, dissolving arbitrary siloes and developing holistic solutions, accelerate the transfer of skills and knowledge between sectors so people can thrive, and inform the public and policy makers on the issues that matter most.

“We believe this is achievable. With the right focus and the means to galvanise people across the entire community, including our excellent universities, we can make a real difference to society,” Smith added.

The strategy has therefore set three goals: to advance world-class research and apply it to national and global challenges; build skills for the future; and drive an informed public conversation around data science and AI.

Under the first of these goals, the Alan Turing Institute aims to become “challenge-led” by defining a series of “grand challenges” to leverage its digital capabilities, infrastructure and expertise for commercial and societal benefit.

In defining its grand challenges, the institute has focused on areas where data science and AI can have a “transformative impact on the domain” and where the UK is already well-placed “to build a sustainable, competitive advantage and provide global leadership”.

The three grand challenges selected revolve around health, the environment and sustainability, and defence and national security.

The Alan Turing Institute said these challenges would “enable and support researchers to work towards a world where machine learning algorithms could detect early warning signs of disease and help doctors tailor treatments for individual patients, where we could predict the impacts of climate change and guide our mitigations against them, and where predictive analytics could help governments identify and prevent potential security threats”.

In June 2022, the Ministry of Defence unveiled its defence AI strategy, outlining how the UK would work closely with the private sector to prioritise research, development and experimentation in AI to “revolutionise our armed forces’ capabilities”.

The institute said partnerships and collaboration would be key to achieving its goals and challenges, and that Turing Research and Innovation Clusters (TRICs) would help amplify the UK’s existing capabilities by bringing together expertise in one place and accelerating technical developments.

On its second goal of building skills, the institute said it would aim to accelerate the transfer of skills and knowledge between academia, industry, government and the third sector through, for example, helping with academic research placements, data science and AI training courses, and capacity-building initiatives for business.

To drive an informed public conversation, the institute added it could “provide balance, speaking to both the technical, and social and ethical dimensions of these technologies, presenting both the positive opportunities, as well as the risks”.

This will be done through developing frameworks to inform regulation, working with civil society and advocacy groups to reach under-represented communities, and working to increase access to information about AI.

“In the government’s national AI strategy, we set out the need to invest and plan for the long-term requirements of the AI ecosystem. As a national institute, the Turing is a crucial part of this,” said AI Council chair Tabitha Goldstaub.

“It’s exciting to see how their new strategy identifies key areas where data science and AI could have the most societal impact, and importantly recognises the diverse range of communities, experts and perspectives required to make advances. This new focus, together with commitments on skills and improving public understanding, will support the ecosystem to thrive in the coming decade.”

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