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UK government announces new AI 'sector deal' with tech industry

Technology companies have promised to invest more than £300 million in the area of artificial intelligence (AI) as part of a new 'sector deal' struck with the UK government.26 Apr 2018

The new AI sector deal announced by the government on Thursday sets out business, academia and government might work in partnership to drive improvements in UK productivity through support for AI.

The package of measures include up to £0.95 billion of financial support for the AI sector from public and private investment, as well as improved tax credits for AI research and development.

It also includes a raft of steps to attract and retain people with AI skills to work in the UK, including the development of a "prestigious global Turing Fellowship programme" and the doubling of the number of visas available for foreign nationals to work in UK jobs in science and digital technology. The technology industry has also committed to fund Masters programmes in AI, based at leading UK universities, as part of the skills drive.

The government has also committed to enhancing the UK’s existing data infrastructure, and promised further steps to "publish more high quality public data in an open, easily findable and reusable format suitable for machine learning". It also said it would look to identify barriers to sharing data and work with industry to "explore frameworks and mechanisms for safe, secure and equitable data transfer", such as through the use of 'data trusts', which were recommended in a government-commissioned review into how to grow the AI industry in the UK last year.

The technology industry said it would "work towards interoperable and, where possible, open data standards". To this end, AI developers are to "enhance and define technical standards that allow interoperability between AI systems" and will work with the government to establish "a framework of standards to underpin this", according to the report.

A new AI Council, made up of "leading figures" from business and academia and with "minister representation", is also to be created to "oversee implementation" of the new sector deal, and will work with a new Office for Artificial Intelligence that is also to established to "create and deliver the AI strategy".

Further plans announced include the expansion of AI clusters across the UK by industry, and further investment by the government in "next generation digital infrastructure".

"Creating an economy that harnesses artificial intelligence (AI) and big data is one of the great opportunities of our age," the government said.

So-called 'sector deals' are aimed at boosting UK productivity and were set out as part of a wider package of measures in an industrial strategy published by the UK government last year. UK productivity currently lags behind that of Germany, France, the US and Italy.

Previous sector deals put in place include those in the automotiveconstructionlife sciences and creative industries sectors.

"If we get our strategy for AI right, then we will be able to reap the rewards for our economy for decades to come," the government said.

The European Commission also announced earlier this week that it would be increasing its investment in AI research and innovation through the Horizon 2020 programme to €1.5 billion between 2018 and 2020. It said it expects the move to "trigger an additional €2.5 billion of funding from existing public-private partnerships, for example on big data and robotics" and is aimed at increasing public and private investment in AI to at least €20bn between now and the end of 2020.

Further EU funding will also be available to business-education partnerships to set up dedicated training schemes to help them "attract and keep more AI talent in Europe", the Commission said. It also announced that it would publish new ethical guidance on AI development by the end of the year, with further guidance "on the interpretation of the Product Liability Directive in the light of technological developments" to be issued by mid-2019.