🔬 Summary by Angshuman Kaushik, Researcher in AI Policy, Governance and Ethics.
[Document from the UK Government]
Overview: The UK’s first National Artificial Intelligence Strategy was presented to the Parliament by Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport by Command of Her Majesty on September 22, 2021. The highlight of the strategy is the highly ambitious ten-year plan ‘to make Britain a global AI superpower’. Further, according to Dorries, ‘this strategy will signal to the world UK’s intention to build the most pro-innovation regulatory environment in the world’.
The celebrated Kai-Fu Lee in his seminal book, ‘AI Super-Powers China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order’, observed, ‘Harnessing the power of AI today – the “electricity” of the twenty-first century – requires four analogous inputs: abundant data, hungry entrepreneurs, AI scientists, and an AI-friendly policy environment’. The UK which has always been at the vanguard of AI – from Alan Turing to the present – seems to have taken the perspicacious words of ‘the indisputable rock star of China’s technology scene’ earnestly, and has decided to follow them to the hilt, going forward. In fact, in the recent past, it has come up with a surfeit of Reports, Policy Papers etc., all touching upon the various facets of AI. One amongst them, is the House of Lords Select Committee Report on Artificial Intelligence published in 2018 titled ‘AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?’, followed by the House of Lords Liaison Committee Report called the ‘AI in the UK: No Room for Complacency.’, published in 2020. There are several other reports also. This strategy, which is the latest entrant into the scene, owes enormously to the AI Council’s 16 recommendations to help the government develop a UK National AI Strategy. In fact, the strategy acknowledges the said fact by mentioning that the Council has played a central role in gathering evidence to inform its development. It further goes on to say that the government remains grateful to the AI Council for its continued leadership of the AI ecosystem. The strategy centers around three pillars with short, medium and long term timelines for achieving the delineated tasks.
The Three Pillars
Pillar 1: Investing in the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem
The first pillar focuses on investing in the long-term needs of the AI ecosystem. Some of the key ways in which the government intends to achieve the same is outlined below;
- continue to develop the brightest and the most diverse workforce, considering that UK suffers from AI skills gap;
- United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI) will support the transformation of the UK’s capability in AI by launching a National AI Research and Innovation (R&I) Programme;
- continue to use Official Development Assistance to support R&D partnerships with developing countries;
- publish a policy framework in autumn 2021, setting out its role in enabling better data availability in the wider economy;
- consult on the potential value of and options for a UK capability in digital twinning and wider ‘cyber-physical infrastructure’;
- continue to publish authoritative, open and machine-readable data on which AI models for both public and commercial benefit can be trained.
- the Office for AI will also work with teams across government to consider what valuable datasets government should purposefully incentivize, that will accelerate the development of AI applications;
- to better understand the UK’s future AI computing requirements, the Office for AI and UKRI will evaluate the UK’s computing capacity needs to support AI innovation, commercialization and deployment;
- continue to evaluate the state of funding specifically for innovative firms developing AI technologies across every region of the UK; and
- include provisions on emerging digital technologies, including AI, in the government’s new trade deals.
Pillar 2: Ensuring AI benefits all sectors and regions
Significant modes to be pursued include;
- the Office for AI will publish research later this year into the drivers of AI adoption and diffusion;
- to stimulate the development and adoption of AI technologies in high-potential, low-AI maturity sectors the Office for AI and UKRI will launch a programme;
- the Office for AI will work closely with the Office for Science and Technology Strategy and government departments to understand the government’s strategic goals and where AI can provide a catalytic contribution;
- through its leadership in international development and diplomacy, the government of UK will work to ensure that international collaboration can unlock the enormous potential of AI to accelerate progress on global challenges, from climate change to poverty;
- launch a draft National Strategy for AI in Health and Social Care in line with the National AI Strategy. This will set the direction for AI in health and social care up to 2030, and is expected to launch in early 2022; and
- publish the Defence AI Strategy, which will include the establishment of a new Defence AI Center.
Pillar 3: Governing AI effectively
Some of the tasks to be taken up are as stated below;
- the Office for AI will develop UK’s national position on governing and regulating AI, which will be set out in a White Paper in early 2022;
- the government will continue to work with its partners around the world to shape international norms and standards relating to AI, including those developed by multilateral and multistakeholder bodies at global and regional level;
- to support the development of a mature AI assurance ecosystem, the CDEI is publishing an AI assurance roadmap;
- the government is working with the Alan Turing Institute to update the guidance on AI Ethics and Safety in the Public Sector in order to provide the public servants with the most current information about the state of the art in responsible AI innovation;
- the Ministry of Defence has rigorous codes of conduct and regulation which uphold responsible AI use, and is working closely with the wider government on approaches to ensure clear alignment with the values and norms of the society;
- to ensure that citizens have confidence and trust in how data is being processed and analyzed to derive insights, the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) is conducting research with a view to developing a cross-government standard for algorithmic transparency in line with the commitment in the National Data Strategy; and
- the Office for AI will coordinate with cross-government processes to accurately assess long term AI safety and risks, which will include activities such as evaluating technical expertise in government and the value of research infrastructure.
The present strategy talks about publication of a plan to execute the vision set out therein, in the near future. Further, mechanisms will be put in place to monitor and assess progress. The government also intends to publish a set of quantitative indicators, given the ‘far-ranging’ and ‘hard-to-define’ impacts AI will have on the economy and the society. These indicators will be published separately and at regular intervals to provide transparency and accountability. It is the Office for AI that will be responsible for overall delivery of strategy, monitoring progress and enabling its implementation across government, academia, industry and civil society.
Between the lines
On March 12, 2021 Oliver Dowden, the then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the predecessor of Nadine Dorries announced the Government’s Ten Tech Priorities. One of the priorities also included a commitment to publish a National AI Strategy (the present strategy). Dowden said ‘Unleashing the power of AI is a top priority in our plan to be the most pro-tech government ever. The UK is already a world leader in this revolutionary technology and the new AI Strategy will help us seize its full potential – from creating new jobs and improving productivity to tackling climate change and delivering better public services’. Now, that the strategy is published, we will have to wait and watch the execution of the vision contained in it.