Governments Must Invest in Data, Research and AI Skills

By John Madden, Senior Manager for Content
October 19, 2017 • 4 minute read

The UK government outlined several specific recommendations which have the potential to place AI as a national priority.

The UK government this week released an extensive report on the potential impact of AI on the country, and how UK lawmakers and agencies need to prepare for the building AI wave. The report and its recommendations mirror efforts and studies from governments worldwide, as legislators gauge how AI can and should influence decisions over policy, regulation, investment and education. Ultimately, governments that are forward-thinking, particularly when it comes to educating and skilling their workforces with next-generation AI-related skills, will have a distinct advantage throughout the next decade.

The 78-page UK report, released by the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, determines that the UK has the potential to become a worldwide leader in AI, which would result in tremendous benefits economically and socially. The report predicts that AI could add an additional $814bn (£630bn) to the UK economy by 2035 – but cautions that the government needs to make movements now to see that growth come to fruition. The report was written by Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, and Jérôme Pesenti, CEO of BenevolentTech, the technology division of BenevolentAI.

To fully capture the AI opportunity for the UK, the report outlines 18 specific recommendations that we agree have the potential to vault AI to a national UK priority, and impact various vertical industries. Some of these recommendations, which are classified into four broad areas, are summarized below.

Improved access to data

The report made a set of the recommendations related to governments, industry vendors and research groups sharing data, which is critical to teach AI systems so they can support IT and business functions. These include:

  • Government and industry should work together to establish Data Trusts – trusted frameworks and agreements – to facilitate the sharing of data between organizations possessing data and research and those organizations looking to develop AI in a mutually beneficial manner.
  • Establish a Data Trusts Support Organization (DTSO) to take the lead on the development of tools, templates and guidance for those who want to share and use data and form Data Trusts.
  • Make more research data machine-readable, and support text and data mining as a standard research tool.
Maximize UK AI research

The government should focus on harnessing the country’s established AI research institutes and organizations into a more coordinated effort, the report recommended, through various methods:

  • Leverage The Alan Turing Institute, named after the renowned British computer scientist that launched and inspired much of the modern AI movement, as a national AI institute for the UK.
  • The Alan Turing Institute should work with other national scientific and computing councils/committees to coordinate demand for computing capacity for AI research.
Support uptake of AI within the UK

As with other governments, the report recommended the UK should nationalize its AI strategy and consider how AI can be used in public agencies:

  • The government, AI industry and subject matter experts should establish a UK AI Council to help coordinate and grow AI throughout the country.
  • The government should start now in preparing a program to review where AI can be properly applied to improve operations and services for the public at large, and develop best practices for different agencies.
Improve the supply of skills

AI’s impact on the human workforce is the issue that often makes headlines, and the report makes some of its strongest recommendations when it comes to AI’s effects on the country’s workforce. Instead of focusing on potential AI negatives, the report focuses on how the UK can train and skill its citizens to take advantage of the AI opportunity.

Skills in the tech industry overall already are hard to come by, and the situation is “especially acute in AI because it is a specialized subfield at the junction of two already supply-constrained fields, software engineering/computer science and mathematics/statistics/data science,” as the report states. “This review recommends a major step-change in UK development of high-level skills for AI, but this is not something that can be done in one move.” To that end, the report recommends:

  • An industry-funded, 15-month AI Master’s program, with an initial goal of 300 students.
  • An exploration by universities with employers and students of the potential demand for one-year conversion Masters degrees in AI for graduates in subjects other than computing and data science.
  • 200 more Ph.D. places in AI at leading UK universities, attracting candidates from diverse backgrounds worldwide.
  • Greater diversity in the AI workforce
  • An international AI Fellowship program for the UK.
Governments worldwide are focused on AI strategies

As noted, other governments are closely monitoring AI movements and are taking steps to prepare their countries to attract AI investment. A report from McKinsey says companies invested $26bn to $39bn in AI in 2016, a pace that continues this year; US-based companies took in 66% of AI investments, followed by China with 17%. A study by PwC Canada reports that AI investments totalled $162m across 12 deals in the first half of 2017, the highest level in the past five years, as the Canadian government moves to position the country as a top AI destination for international investors. In Singapore, The National Research Foundation will invest up to $150m into a new national program to boost the country’s AI capabilities over the next five years. Meanwhile, the UAE government recently announced a comprehensive AI strategy, which includes the establishment of a UAE AI Council, and plans to embed AI technologies into public services such as medical and security.

We believe AI vendors have a vested interest in working with governments on these initiatives, and will need to skillfully balance investing in countries that are thinking innovatively about AI’s potential, while providing advice and guidance on what policies and regulations will allow AI technologies to thrive. Taking a leadership position now on how governments can handle AI’s effects on local and national workforces – emphasizing the need for training in AI-related skills and collaboration between AI and humans -- will put vendors in a strong position once governments’ AI preparedness begins to pay off.

Sources: UK governmentMcKinsey & Company, PwC Canada, Channel NewsAsia, Gulf News

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