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Technology secretary Chloe Smith announces £54m package for AI

In her speech at London Tech Week, Smith launched funding to support a series of AI initiatives, including creating a research and innovation ecosystem for trustworthy and responsible AI, and developing AI technologies to help the UK reach its net-zero targets

Technology secretary Chloe Smith has announced a £54m package of funding to support industry to develop trustworthy and secure artificial intelligence (AI), as well as £50m for a new pilot programme to accelerate new research ventures.

During her speech at London Tech Week, Smith said that the government is committed to playing its part in ensuring AI technology is developed in a safe and secure way.

Earlier this week, prime minister Rishi Sunak also highlighted the importance of AI safety research, saying the government hopes to build a “new partnership between our vibrant academia, brilliant AI companies, and a government that gets it”.

Smith announced that the government will be “investing in our AI talent pipeline with a £54m package to develop trustworthy and secure artificial intelligence, and putting our best foot forward as a global leader in tech both now and in the years to come”.

This includes a joint project with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) where £31m will be used to back research at the University of Southampton to create safe AI, bringing together academia, business and the wider public to look at how responsible AI can be developed, while also considering the impact on wider society.

“We’re backing a consortium led by the University of Southampton, spanning the whole of the UK, to create an international research and innovation ecosystem for responsible and trustworthy AI,” Smith said.

The remaining £13m will be used to fund 13 projects at universities across the UK to develop AI innovations in sustainable land management, efficient CO2 capture and resilience against natural hazards. This funding includes Durham University, which is receiving £1.8m to develop a virtual power plant with AI for resilience and decarbonisation.

Another project receiving funding is the University of Exeter, which will be creating a user-bespoke AI-enhanced decision support to deliver UK woodland expansion.  

“We’re green-lighting a whole host of new UKRI projects for AI technologies that will help us reach our ambitious net-zero targets,” Smith said.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) will also shortly launch an open call for proposals to pilot “new collaborative approaches for performing science in the UK”, Smith added.

“Backed by up to £50m of government funding to drive investment and partnership with industry and the third sector, we want to catalyse new ideas and new ways of working with the potential to deliver transformational breakthroughs.

“We want to fund ideas that aren’t being adequately addressed elsewhere in the UK research landscape. I encourage researchers and innovators across all fields to consider applying when our call for proposals opens in a few weeks.”

Smith also used her speech to highlight the success of the UK’s tech sector as she launched the government’s new UK Geospatial Strategy 2030.

“With the right investment, the right regulation, the right skills and talent, I believe the UK is primed for a new era of innovation and growth. But to really shoot for the stars, we also need to do something else – we need to strategise for the long term,” she said.

“We need to consult industry experts and reflect fully on how we want to see some of our core technologies evolving not just over the next one or two years, but over the next 10 to 15 years.”

The geospatial strategy covers three missions, including embracing enabling technologies to accelerate geospatial innovation, driving greater use of geospatial applications and build confidence in the future geospatial ecosystem.

Together with technology secretary Michelle Donelan, who is currently on maternity leave, Smith was the winner of the UKtech50 2023, Computer Weekly’s annual list of the most influential people in UK technology.

Read more from London Tech Week:

  • The UK prime minister used his speech during London Tech Week to discuss funding tech, attracting talent, and AI safety.
  • Labour leader sees a need for a broad regulatory framework and a frank discussion with business to inform policy around job losses arising from AI.
  • Deciphering the politician soundbites during London Tech Week shows that both the Tories and Labour are headed by party leaders who want to be seen as supporters of artificial intelligence (AI).

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