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New strategy points to public sector role in boosting AI in UK

23/09/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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The public sector will have key roles to play as a buyer and exemplar in developing the UK’s capacity in artificial intelligence, according to the new National AI Strategy.

Cyborg woman looking at AI logo

Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries MP submitted the new strategy to Parliament yesterday, saying it represents a step change in the Government’s approach to the technology.

She highlighted that it will be based on three pillars: investing in the needs of the AI ecosystem, with more access to data and compute resources; supporting the diffusion of AI across the whole economy; and developing a pro-innovation regulatory and governance framework.

Within the document are short sections focused on the public sector role in developing the ecosystem. This will include keeping public procurement and pre-commercial procurement in line with the development of AI, as part of a drive to increase buyer confidence and the technology’s capability.

It points to efforts to help public sector buyers evaluate suppliers then confidently procure AI, to the launch by the Crown Commercial Service of a dynamic purchasing system for the technology, and the organisation’s plan for procurement training workshops.

The potential for the armed forces is also highlighted, with the Ministry of Defence soon to publish its own AI strategy and create a Defence AI Centre.

Exemplar initiatives

The strategy also highlights the public sector’s influence as an exemplar, with initiatives such as the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation’s work on an AI assurance roadmap and the NHS AI Lab’s exploration of the ethics of AI in healthcare.

The Government is working with the Alan Turing Institute on updating the guidance for public servants in the ethics and use of AI, and the Ministry of Defence has developed codes of conduct and regulation for its use.

In addition, the Central Digital and Data Office is conducting research into a future cross-government standard for algorithmic transparency

The document also outlines a series of key actions in the pipeline including efforts to: establish which open and machine readable government datasets can be published for AI models; join up across government to identify where using AI can provide a catalytic contribution to dealing with strategic challenges; and working with national security, defence and researchers to understand what public sector actions can safely advance AI and mitigate catastrophic risks.

Other elements of the strategy highlighted by the Government include:

  • A National AI Research and Innovation Programme.
  • A joint Office for AI and UK Research and Innovation programme on developing the technology in sectors outside the South East.
  • A review of the availability and capacity of computing power in the UK for researchers and organisations.
  • A consultation on copyright and patents for AI through the Intellectual Property Office.
  • A trial of an AI Standards Hub to co-ordinate UK engagement in setting the rules globally.

Execution plan to come

The next step will be for the Office of Artificial Intelligence – a joint unit of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – to publish an execution and monitoring plan for the strategy.

In her statement to Parliament, Dorries said: “The challenge now for the UK is to fully unlock the power of AI and data driven technologies, to build on our early leadership and legacy and to look forward to the opportunities of this coming decade.

“This strategy outlines our vision for how the UK can maintain and build on its position as other countries also race to deliver their own economic and technological transformations.”

Image from iStock, Andrey Suslov

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