Downing Street automation unit becomes permanent Whitehall fixture

Cabinet Office minister has revealed that the Incubator for Automation and Innovation – which sits across the Cabinet Office and PM’s Delivery Group – will continue after a trial period

After a successful trial period, a Cabinet Office team dedicated to exploring the potential of automation technologies is to become a permanent fixture of the civil service.

The Incubator for Automation and Innovation – known as i.AI – was created last year works with both government’s central department and 10 Downing Street “to fast-track government modernisation and reform by delivering high impact digital solutions at pace, and accelerate culture change through introducing new ways of working”, according to a recently published job advert.

In a speech given last week announcing a number of measures intended to promote digitisation and reform, Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin announced that i.AI is to progress and expand on its current trial phase.

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“I am excited to announce that, following last year’s pilot, the incubator for Automation and Innovation, known as i.AI, will become a permanent civil service team focused on some of our most important and intractable challenges,” Quin said.

There is currently little publicly available information about the unit, which does not have a GOV.UK page, but it is described in various job adverts as a software development team “using rapid prototyping to catalyse change in the civil service through automation and innovation…experimenting with new ways of working while delivering high quality digital products”.

Part of the both the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister’s Delivery Group, the unit’s “recent projects include building a citizen-facing eligibility checker for a prime ministerial priority policy with a data sharing portal built with another government department, designing and developing the Evaluation Registry, and small proof of concept apps to improve efficiency for civil servants built in weeks,” according to a current job advert – offering a salary of up to £118,000 in a bid to recruit a lead technologist.

On how government is responding to advances in AI more broadly, Quin said: “Our central team of digital and technology experts is creating a practical framework to put this technology to work across the civil service, solving problems of privacy, ethics and security, and bringing insights and best practice from industry.”

AI tools are already assisting Department for Education calculations about apprenticeship placements and a Department of Work and Pensions programme to help disabled people into work, Quin added.

Tevye Markson and Sam Trendall

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