On 22 September 2021, during the third day of London Tech Week, the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport published its first National AI Strategy, detailing its 10-year plan to position the UK as a global leader in the governance of Artificial Intelligence (‘AI’) technologies by boosting business use of AI, attracting international investment, and developing the next generation of tech talent.

The Strategy anticipates that AI will have a profound impact on business over the next 10 years by transforming the efficiency and accuracy of work across all sectors on a daily basis. The UK is already an attractive destination for investment in AI, currently ranked third in the world for private venture capital investment into AI companies, and having benefited from £2.3 billion in Government investment since 2014. The Strategy aims to build on the UK’s current position in order to translate the tremendous potential of AI into better growth, prosperity and social benefits for the UK, and to help solve global challenges by using AI.

It comes at a time where there is a global surge in research, consultation, and investment into AI, including publication by the European Commission of its first-ever proposal for regulating AI (read our summary here).

The Government hopes to achieve its vision through specific proposals focussed around three core pillars as set out in the Strategy paper.

Investment in the long-term growth of AI

The first pillar seeks to ensure the UK invests in the long-term growth of AI by:

  • Launching a National AI Research and Innovation Programme to improve coordination and collaboration between the UK’s researchers and help transform the UK’s AI capabilities, while boosting business and public sector adoption of AI technologies and their ability to take them to market.
  • Publishing a joint review with the UK Research & Innovation (‘UKRI’) into the availability and capacity of computing power for UK researchers and organisations, including the physical hardware needed to drive a major roll out in AI technologies which will also consider wider needs for the commercialisation and deployment of AI, including its environmental impacts.
  • Increasing diversity and closing the skills gap through postgraduate conversion courses in data science and AI and providing access to specialist courses for children from a wide range of backgrounds.

Sector and regional focus

The second pillar of the Strategy is to ensure that AI benefits all sectors and regions of the economy, including by:

  • Supporting the Government’s levelling up agenda by launching a joint Office for AI (‘OAI’) and UKRI programme aimed at continuing to develop AI in sectors based outside of London and the South East. This programme focusses on the commercialisation of ideas and could see, for example, the Government focusing investment, research and development in areas which currently do not use much AI technology but have great potential, such as energy and farming.

Effective regulation

The third pillar ensures that AI is governed effectively by adequate rules which encourage innovation, investment, and protect the public and the country’s fundamental values, plans of which include:

  • Launching a consultation on copyright and patents for AI through the UK Intellectual Property Office (‘UKIPO’) to make sure the UK is capitalising on the ideas it generates by supporting AI development and use through the copyright and patent systems. This consultation will also include a focus on how to protect AI generated inventions which would otherwise not meet inventorship criteria as well as measures to make it easier to use copyright protected material in AI development. For further information on this consultation, read our summary here.
  • Trialling an AI Standards Hub to coordinate UK engagement in setting the rules globally and working with The Alan Turing Institute to update guidance on AI ethics and safety in the public sector and create practical tools to make sure the technology is used ethically.
  • Developing a pro-innovation national position on governing and regulating AI, which will be set out in a White Paper to be published in early 2022.

Wider context

The publication of the Strategy does not stand alone; the interconnected work of the UK Government within the AI space includes, for example, the Government’s consultation on the opportunity for data intermediaries to support responsible data sharing and data stewardship in the economy and the interplay of AI technologies with the UK’s data rights regime of which the Government will publish a policy framework in Autumn 2021. In light of this, the Strategy marks a consistent effort by the UK to not only work collaboratively and maintain ground with other key players in the AI space, but also to reach further in becoming a leader in AI.