Event Review: Can Britain become a global AI superpower?

Hume Brophy’s Director of Public Affairs, Mark MacGregor hosted a webinar on whether Britain can achieve its ambitions to be a global superpower in Artificial Intelligence. The keynote speaker, the Minister responsible for the National AI Strategy, Chris Philp MP, was joined by a panel of experts made up of James Perrott, Lead Data Scientist at Atos, Tim El-Sheikh CEO and Chief Architect of Nebuli and Catriona Campbell, Partner and CTIO at EY.

The Minister began by highlighting the progress the country had already made in AI and how well Britain was placed to become one of the top three AI hubs across the world. The UK is a clear leader in Europe, in terms of levels of investment into AI as well as the number of AI start-ups, and globally, beaten only by the USA and China. The AI sector is also a critical component of the UK’s wider technology scene, which is currently producing, on average, a new unicorn a week – more than France, Germany and Israel combined.

The Minister provided a short overview of the National AI Strategy paper, published in late September (read the full document here). The strategy has three pillars focused on the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem, ensuring AI benefits all sectors and regions and regulating AI. Interestingly, one of the key elements was a new visa programme designed to enable the top AI talent across the globe to be able to work in the UK. He also recognised the importance of a transparent, proportionate, and effective regulatory framework.

When asked the single biggest challenge to Britain achieving its AI goals, the Minister described the importance of attracting both UK pension funds and venture capital funds to invest in UK-based AI technology – an area where the country lags significantly behind the US.

The three panellists – from EY, Atos and Nebuli – were equally positive about the UK’s prospects but also the need to tackle some important areas. Catriona Campbell from EY used research the firm had undertaken to outline the areas where she believed progress was vital:

  • Finding ways to increase public trust in data
  • Ensuring the country has the right skills
  • Addressing legacy infrastructure
  • Having the ability to identify a clear ROI for AI projects

The public’s lack of trust in how corporations and governments use data was a recurring theme of the discussion, especially for technology or social media companies. As a result, this would inevitably have an impact on AI. According to EY’s Catriona Campbell, whatever actions the Government might take, the private sector has a pivotal role in helping to rebuild trust, principally by setting standards that would apply cross sector.

James Perrott from Atos raised concerns about the extent or role that Government would play in regulating AI against what the private sector could do in self-regulation. He referenced good examples from other sectors, including law and medicine, which largely rely on self-regulation. The Minister outlined why he opposed any new kind of regulator to cover all aspects of AI, preferring to focus on using existing sector-specific regulators, like OFCOM and the FCA, to develop regulation in their own areas. Over-regulating at this early stage might also curtail the growth of AI especially at this stage when it is beginning to expand rapidly across many types of business.

Another panellist, Tim El-Sheikh from Nebuli, raised the enormity of the challenge around “skilling-up” both people who work specifically in AI and the broader population. The Minister acknowledged that this was one of the key issues being addressed by the Government, but nevertheless progress had been made including £100 million of funding for sixteen new AI Centres for Doctoral Training, a new industry-funded AI Masters programme and up to 2,500 places for AI and data science conversion courses.

To join Hume Brophy’s next webinar on Global Britain vs the Nation State follow this link: Hume Brophy on Eventbrite

Watch the full video below: