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EU and UK lay out major investments in AI

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The European Commission has laid out its plans to invest €20bn (£17.5bn) in artificial intelligence (AI) by 2020 to boost Europe’s position in the rapidly advancing field, while the UK government announces its £1bn ‘AI Sector Deal’.

According to the Commission – the executive branch of the EU – its plans consist of a three-pronged approach to boost public and private investment, brace for the social transformation driven by AI, and introduce an ethical and legal framework for AI. The Commission aims to have a coordinated plan on AI by the end of 2018.

“Just as the steam engine and electricity did in the past, AI is transforming our world. It presents new challenges that Europe should meet together in order for AI to succeed and work for everyone,” said Andrus Ansip, VP for the digital single market.

“We need to invest at least €20bn (£17.5bn) by the end of 2020. The Commission is playing its part: today, we are giving a boost to researchers so that they can develop the next generation of AI technologies and applications, and to companies, so that they can embrace and incorporate them.”

This proposed multi-billion-euro increase is a vast increase on current investments, and could boost the development of AI in sectors such as healthcare. The Commission itself – through the Horizon 2020 research funding programme – has sworn to increase its investment in AI to €1.5bn (£1.3bn). It will also be proposing legislation to make data sharing and reuse easier, including for health and academic data, and will support the creation of what it calls an ‘AI-on-demand’ platform to connect Europeans to AI resources.

In order to prepare for the vast social changes cause by AI – many of which are already underway – European member states will be encouraged to transform education policy such that citizens are prepared to cope with the transformation of the jobs sector caused by AI. Meanwhile, a new set of guidelines presented by the Commission by the end of 2018 will suggest how legal and ethical issues relating to AI – such as data protection and transparency – should be handled.

While many world-leading AI researchers, research groups and companies are based in Europe, the region could risk falling far behind other parts of the world. The Chinese government, for instance, made it official policy in July 2017 to make China the world leader in AI by 2030 with ¥1tn (£110bn) of investment. In September 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that the world leader in AI would become “ruler of the world”.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the government has set aside nearly £1bn – including more than £300m in public funding – to boost the country’s AI sector in an ‘AI Sector Deal’, part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

This public funding could be used to train 1,000 AI PhDs, a Turing Fellowship programme and 8,000 new computer science teachers (to fulfil an aim of providing every secondary school with a qualified GCSE teacher). This investment in training could soften fears that advances in AI will put many British citizens out of work, affecting low-skilled workers most drastically and requiring many digitally skilled workers to fill entirely new roles.

Other UK investments in AI include the establishment of a European HQ for Global Brain based in the UK, a new £10m AI supercomputer based at the University of Cambridge – which will be available for industrial use – as well as European HQs of Global Brain and Chrysalix in the UK, and a set of data science research projects run by the Alan Turing Institute and Rolls-Royce.

“The UK must be at the forefront of emerging technologies, pushing boundaries and harnessing innovation to change people’s lives for the better,” said Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

“[AI] is at the centre of our plans to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business. We have a great track record and are home to some of the world’s biggest names in AI [...] but there is so much more we can do. By boosting AI skills and data-driven technologies we will make sure that we continue to build a Britain that is shaping the future.”

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