Microsoft believes the UK can become a "global leader in AI", but regulation needs fixing

Attendees walk past the logo of US multinational technology company Microsoft during the Web Summit in Lisbon on November 6, 2019
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Microsoft believes the UK can become a global leader in artificial intelligence (AI) so long as it can get a grip on responsible governance and regulation of the technology. 

Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK, said the country is “well placed” to establish itself as a global leader in AI across a range of industries, including healthcare, education, manufacturing, and agriculture.

"As one of the most digitally advanced economies in the world, the UK is well placed to lead the way in AI development and deployment. The home of innovative businesses, research institutions and world leading universities, the UK is quick to adopt emerging technologies and use them to solve real-world challenges," she said.

"For example, AI is helping improve patient outcomes in the National Health Service; monitor puffin and salmon populations in Scotland; and accelerate clinical research."

Barclay’s comments coincide with the release of a new report from the tech giant, Governing AI: A Blueprint for the UK, in which it specifically highlighted the country as having the necessary infrastructure to drive AI innovation.

Over the next three years, says Microsoft, it will spend £2.5 billion on expanding its AI data center infrastructure in the UK, bringing more than 20,000 of the most advanced GPUs to the UK by 2026.

It will extend its Accelerating Foundation Models Research (AFMR) program to give priority access to GPUs for the UK’s science and research community, the company confirmed, and make a multi-million-pound investment to train a million people in AI skills.

In particular, it plans to try and help the UK’s AI developer ecosystem to embed safety and security measures into their own systems and processes.

"We applaud the steps taken by the UK to contribute to the debate on AI governance globally, through publishing guidelines for secure AI development, producing a principles-based white paper on AI governance, and holding a global summit on AI safety," said Microsoft vice chair and president Brad Smith.

"The challenge facing policymakers around the world is how to establish a governance framework that will encourage the use of safe, secure and trustworthy AI for years to come."

Microsoft: AI safety must be center of mind

Microsoft recommended that the UK build upon new government-led AI safety frameworks, require safety brakes for AI systems that control critical infrastructure, and develop a broader legal and regulatory framework based on the technology architecture for AI.

Similarly, it should promote transparency and ensure academic and public access to AI and pursue new public-private partnerships to use AI to address the inevitable societal challenges that come with new technology.

"As technology moves forward, it’s just as important to ensure proper control over AI as it is to pursue its benefits. We are committed and determined as a company to develop and deploy AI in a safe and responsible way," Smith said.

"We also recognize, however, that the guardrails needed for AI require a broadly shared sense of responsibility and should not be left to technology companies alone. In short, tech companies will need to step up, and governments will need to move faster."

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.