Government and tech sector invest £1 billion in the UK's AI future

Parliament building at night

The tech sector has joined forces with the UK government, together pledging to invest nearly 1 billion to develop new AI technologies in the UK.

More than 50 private sector companies will contribute 300 million to the AI research fund, named the AI Sector Deal, with the rest coming from existing government grants, plus an extra 300 million the government is making available.

The money will be spent on training for 8,000 specialist computer science teachers, 1,000 AI PhDs by 2025 and the development of the Turing Fellowship programme, which has been set up to grow research talent in the UK.

"The UK must be at the forefront of emerging technologies, pushing boundaries and harnessing innovation to change people's lives for the better," Matt Hancock, secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said.

"Artificial intelligence is at the centre of our plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business. We have a great track record and are home to some of the world's biggest names in AI like Deepmind, Swiftkey and Babylon, but there is so much more we can do."

A total 21 million of the government's funding will be handed to London startup promotion body Tech City UK - now Tech Nation - to spend on further developing startup hubs around the UK, a move first announced in last year's Budget, while 9 million will be spent on building a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, as announced in early 2017.

Gerard Grech, CEO Tech Nation, stressed that the UK must embrace and shape the future of AI, saying: "As a recognised global centre of AI expertise with companies like DeepMind, Improbable and 5AI, the UK is in a great position, and by building strong networks of shared knowledge and expertise, we can make it even stronger.

"Tech Nation cannot wait to get started on shaping its first programme for the UK's fastest-growing AI companies next year, which will help those who have proven their potential to reach the next level."

Aside from the injection of cash, accounting software firm Sage will set up an AI pilot programme to educate young people about the opportunities in AI and teach them the skills they need to build up the UK's innovation footprint.

The AI Sector Deal forms part of the government's strategy to invest in emerging tech around the UK. IT was highlighted as an integral part of the Artificial Intelligence Grand Challenge, a long-term plan to put the UK at the front of AI innovation.

Marc Waters, UK & Ireland MD at at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, one of the companies investing in the agreement, welcomed the deal and said: "The AI Sector Deal is a welcome and positive step forward for UK businesses and one that I believe moves the country closer toward achieving the UK's ambitious goals for an AI-powered future."

Tech industry representative body, TechUK, said the AI Sector Deal provides a "clear blueprint" for how the UK can become a leader in AI.

Antony Walker, deputy CEO of TechUK, said: "The UK has an impressive track-record on AI. But we must keep pace and, as the scale of innovation continues to accelerate, we need to ensure that the UK stays at the forefront in the development and application of these powerful new technologies.

"The sector deal focuses on the key issues of maintaining leadership and driving uptake, building the skills pipeline and ethics. Success will depend upon AI companies being deeply engaged in the process."

Clare Hopping
Freelance writer

Clare is the founder of Blue Cactus Digital, a digital marketing company that helps ethical and sustainability-focused businesses grow their customer base.

Prior to becoming a marketer, Clare was a journalist, working at a range of mobile device-focused outlets including Know Your Mobile before moving into freelance life.

As a freelance writer, she drew on her expertise in mobility to write features and guides for ITPro, as well as regularly writing news stories on a wide range of topics.