Major report urges government to create dedicated AI programme for public sector

A government-commissioned study makes 18 recommendations, including asking GDS to help create a scheme to boost public sector use of artificial intelligence

The AI sector could be worth more than £600bn to the UK economy over the next two decades, a new government-backed report has found

A major government-commissioned report has urged the creation of a programme to support the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology across the UK public sector.

Commissioned earlier this year by business secretary Greg Clark and culture secretary Karen Bradley, the newly published Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK report identifies 18 measures that it claims could make the UK a world leader in the field. One of these recommendations is that the government establishes a dedicated programme to help the wider public sector deploy AI.

The independent report, which was written by Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, and Jérôme Pesenti, chief executive of AI firm BenevolentTech, urges the government to work closely with the Government Digital Service, the Data Science Partnership, and other departmental experts to “develop a programme of actions to prepare the public sector and spread best practice for applying AI to improve operations and services for citizens”.

The work of a public-sector AI programme might include backing “demonstrator projects” that showcase best practice, and ensuring the public-sector workforce is prepared for how AI might change their working lives. Supporting “transformational departmental policy programmes” that could benefit from AI and machine-learning algorithms should also be on the agenda, as should ensuring government uses the Digital Marketplace platform to get the most out of AI procurement, the report says.

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“The programme should offer support to the broad UK public sector, including devolved administrations and the local public sector,” it adds. “There could be a role for a dedicated public-sector AI innovation fund, into which departments could bid to fund for proof-of-concept AI demonstrator projects – available to UK SMEs only – to help develop the national pipeline of expertise. An additional mechanism like this could enable policymakers and public-service leaders to test applications in a supported system without having to compete for internal budgets.”

The report’s 18 recommendations are split into four categories, the first of which is dedicated to improving access to data. In this area, the report recommends:

  • The development of data trusts, to make data-sharing easier and more trustworthy
  • To make a greater amount of research data readable to machines
  • To ensure text and data mining become standard tools for researchers

To improve the supply of AI skills, the report recommends:

  • The creation of a Masters degree in AI, funded by the private sector
  • Undertaking research to build AI training courses that benefit employers
  • Awarding an extra 200 places a year – to a more diverse range of students – in AI PhD courses at top universities
  • The development of online courses that could contribute credit to MSc qualifications in AI
  • Fostering more diversity among the AI workforce
  • The creation of an international AI Fellowship Programme in the UK

To get the most out of AI research in the UK, the report recommends:

  • Making the Alan Turing Institute in London a national institution dedicated to AI and data science
  • The promotion, via universities, of standardisation in how intellectual property is transferred
  • A negotiated and coordinated strategy for what computing capacity is dedicated to AI research

To encourage the uptake of AI, the report recommends:

  • The establishment of an AI Council to promote the sector
  • More guidance on how AI-enabled processes and decisions are explained
  • More guidance on how AI could help commercial enterprises improve their business operations
  • Greater government support for exports and inward investment
  • The establishment of a programme to support the use of AI by public-sector entities
  • Public bodies to offer challenges concerning the use of data, with funding offered to successful ideas

The report claims that the market for AI technology could swell the country’s economy by £630bn by 2035. The government has pledged to do its part to help the UK become a world-leading force in the sector.

Culture secretary Bradley said: “I want the UK to lead the way in artificial intelligence. It has the potential to improve our everyday lives – from healthcare, to robots that perform dangerous tasks. We already have some of the best minds in the world working on artificial intelligence, and the challenge now is to build a strong partnership with industry and academia to cement our position as the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business.”

Sam Trendall

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