Government announces review of AI as Digital Strategy set to boost robotics technologies

The government’s long-awaited Digital Strategy is expected to include £17m for artificial intelligence, a review of AI technologies and support for smart devices, cyber security and autonomous vehicles.

Digital Strategy to set out £17m investment in robotics and AI – Photo credit: Fotolia

The strategy, which is due to be published on Wednesday, will build on plans set out in last month’s industrial strategy green paper that aim to boost the UK’s economy by investing in technologies such as AI and cyber.

In a statement previewing the Digital Strategy, the government said that a recent analysis by IT company Accenture had estimated AI – which refers to computational analysis of data that is then used to make predictions or find patters – could add £654bn to the UK economy by 2035.

As part of the strategy, the government announced a major review of AI to look at how the government and industry can work together, which the government said could “inform a sector deal”.

This will be led by technologist and entrepreneur Wendy Hall, who is Regius professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, and Jérôme Pesenti, the chief executive of BenevolentTech, part of a technology company that uses AI to accelerate scientific discovery.

“Technologies like AI have the potential to transform how we live, work, travel and learn,” said culture secretary Karen Bradley. “It’s great that government and industry will be working together to drive growth in the sector, to realise all the economic and social benefits for the UK.”

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The announcement follows pressure from MPs on the Science and Technology Committee, who published a report at the end of last year saying the government’s leadership on AI and robotics “has been lacking”.

In its response to the report, the government acknowledged there needs to be “improved strategic co-ordination and leadership” and promised closer links between government, industry and academia.

As part of this, the government is also expected to announce £17.3m funding for university-based researchers to develop robotics and AI technologies in the Digital Strategy.

These funds, to be distributed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, includes cash for the University of Manchester to develop robots that can work autonomously in hazardous environments and for surgical micro-robotics work at Imperial College London.

Business secretary Greg Clark said that the increased investment would help put the UK “at the forefront” of global innovation, as it built on the Industrial Strategy’s aim to improve the economy and increase productivity.

The government said that the Digital Strategy was also expected to include announcements on cyber security, connected and smart devices, autonomous vehicles.

These are all areas identified as priorities in the Industrial Strategy, which included a pledge to upgrade the UK’s infrastructure with a focus on connected and autonomous vehicles, as well as investments for cyber security and digital modernisation of railway signalling. The government is currently consulting on this plan, with responses accepted until 17 April.

Meanwhile, the Royal Society is expected to publish it independent review into the implications of machine learning shortly. 


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