The UK is currently ranked third in the Global AI Index (an important Japanese interest in the recent UK-Japan Trade Agreement was the potential to combine UK expertise in this field with Japanese leadership in robotics). The UK Government views Brexit as an opportunity to cement the UK as a global leader in the use of AI.

However, the UK is unique amongst European countries in not having an AI Strategy. France has invested 1.5 billion Euros to 2022 and Germany 3.1 billion Euros. The EU is in the final stage of agreeing its new AI regulations.

The UK government recognizes that there is a need to corral its domestic expertise and focus it in order to maintain and maximize the UK’s competitive advantage in this sector. The UK published its AI Sector Deal in May 2019.

In April 2018, the House of Lords published its first report on AI in the UK, entitled ‘Ready, Willing & Able’. In December 2020, it published a follow-up report, which called on the Government to create a comprehensive AI Strategy. Other recommendations included:

  • The creation of the post of Chief Data Officer to act as champion for AI in the public sector.
  • Improvement of access to the internet and enhancement of the UK’s digital skills.
  • Identification of those industries most at risk from AI and the creation of national training schemes to support people to work alongside AI and automation.
  • Mandating the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) to create and publish national standards for the ethical development and deployment of AI.
  • Mandating the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to develop a training course for regulators to ensure their staff understand the ethical and appropriate use of public data and AI systems, and its opportunities and risks.
  • Ensuring that changes to the UK immigration rules promote the study, research and development of AI.

On January 6, 2021, the UK’s AI Council (an independent government advisory body) published its AI Roadmap (“Roadmap”). In addition to calling for a  Public Interest Data Bill to ‘protect against automation and collective harms’, the Roadmap acknowledges the need to counteract public suspicion of AI and makes 16 recommendations, based on three main pillars, to guide the UK Government’s AI strategy.

These recommendations are set out below under their respective pillars.

Research, Development & Innovation

  1. Increase sustainable public sector investment in AI to create the best conditions for research and development. The Council recommends encouraging global talent and cross sector collaboration.
  1. Place The Alan Turing Institute at the centre of the UK’s AI activities, with sustainable funding and encouraging cross-UK and regional investment.
  1. Mainstream AI into all UK ‘moonshot’ programmes to ensure they advance and leverage the UK’s AI expertise.

Skills and Diversity

  1. Create a sustainable programme of high-level AI skill-building, including research fellowships, PhDs, Master’s degrees and apprenticeships.
  1. Ensure that diversity and inclusion are priorities in all AI programmes.
  1. Promote general AI and data literacy for the general public, including through the creation of an Online Academy for understanding AI.

Data, Infrastructure and Public Trust

  1. Improve the infrastructure needed for AI to access data, including investment in data-drive organisations and creating general principles for safe use of data.
  1. Develop best-in-class data governance standards.
  1. Create public scrutiny methodologies to promote public trust in AI.
  1. Position the UK as a global leader in good governance of AI, and enhance bilateral cooperation with key AI nations. Leverage the UK’s role as a founding member of the Global Partnership for AI (“GPAI”).

National, Cross-sector Adoption

  1. Increase consumer confidence in AI and broaden AI reach into the UK economy.
  1. Provide greater support to UK AI startups, including through better access to funding, data, infrastructure and skills.
  1. Increase public sector capability in the use of AI and integrate it into public investment and works.
  1. Maximise the use of AI in addressing climate change, including through improved access to data and governance.
  1. Use AI to enhance national security, enabling the Government to better respond to national defence and security threats.
  1. Improve the use of AI in healthcare and maximize the UK’s use and sharing of data for SMEs.

The UK Government is currently considering its response to the AI Council’s recommendations and a draft strategy will be published for consultation later this year.

Covington will keep clients up-dated on these and other policy developments in the UK’s AI sector.

The Firm has written a number of articles about the use of AI in healthcare in the UK – see, for example blog on the UK Parliament Research Briefing on AI in the UK healthcare system.