Artificial intelligence concept with UK flag as background

Government invests £100m in next-generation AI taskforce

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The expert taskforce will focus on the research and development of "safe and reliable" foundational models, a type of artificial intelligence (AI) used by chatbots such as ChatGPT.

The new Foundation Model Taskforce will receive £100m to accelerate the UK’s capability in next-generation AI models that can be used in fields such as healthcare and education, the government has revealed. 

The recently formed Department for Science, Innovation and Technology announced that the taskforce will be modelled on the success of the Covid-19 Vaccines Taskforce, and will aim to “ensure sovereign capabilities and broad adoption of safe and reliable foundation models”. 

The announcement comes amid a dramatic rise in the popularity of foundation models, a category of AI systems trained on huge volumes of data such as text, images, video or audio to gain broad and sophisticated capabilities across many tasks. 

The capabilities of these next-generation tools have allowed researchers to create powerful AI tools such as OpenAI's ChatGPT and Midjourney. However, governments and experts have raised concerns about the risks these tools could pose to people’s privacy, human rights or safety. 

"Harnessing the potential of AI provides enormous opportunities to grow our economy, create better-paid jobs, and build a better future through advances in healthcare and security," Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said. 

"By investing in emerging technologies through our new expert taskforce, we can continue to lead the way in developing safe and trustworthy AI as part of shaping a more innovative UK economy."

The taskforce is expected to focus on opportunities to "establish the UK as a world leader in foundation models" and their applications across the economy, and "acting as a global standard bearer for AI safety".

Generative AI tools are expected to raise global GDP by 7 per cent over the next 10 years, according to government figures. They are said to have a vast array of use cases in a varied number of fields, such as healthcare, where AI could speed up diagnoses, drug discovery and development; and education, where it could transform teachers’ day-to-day work, freeing up their time to focus on delivering excellent teaching.

"We need to act now to seize the opportunities AI can offer us in the future," said Michelle Donelan, science, innovation and technology secretary. "We’re backing our expert taskforce with the funding to make our ambitions for an AI-enabled country a reality and keep the UK at the front of the pack in this emerging technology.

"To ensure such leadership, the greatest capability we can develop is in the safety and reliability of such systems. This will ensure that the public and business have the trust they need to confidently adopt this technology and fully realise its benefits. That is exactly what this taskforce will prioritise."

The taskforce will be led by a chair who will be announced later in the summer, and the first pilots targeting public services are expected to launch in the next six months, the government has revealed. 

The rise in popularity of next-generation AI models - as well as the concerns about their safety - have led governments to take different approaches to regulating this technology. Some, like Italy, opted to issue a temporary ban on the technology, while China has unveiled draft measures to make companies responsible for the data used to train generative AI models. In contrast, El Salvador has decided to promote the development of these technologies by providing significant tax benefits

The UK, in turn, has begun designing ‘light touch’ regulatory frameworks regarding the safe use of AI. Instead of giving responsibility for AI governance to a new single regulator, the government will empower existing regulators to come up with tailored, context-specific approaches that suit the way AI is actually being used in their sectors.

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