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UKRI pledges £50m for ‘trustworthy’ AI projects

Image credit: Photo 137795256 / Artificial Intelligence © Thekaikoro |

The funding aims to foster an artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem that will create secure tools to address society's most-pressing challenges, according to the organisation.

During this year’s London Tech Week, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced it will provide £50m in funding to develop trustworthy and secure AI tools. 

The announcement follows the Prime Minister's keynote speech at the conference, where Rishi Sunak pitched London as a tech hub to industry leaders and stressed his goal of making the UK "the best place in the world for tech AI". 

As part of this effort, the UKRI's funding pledge will aim to bring experts across different fields together in order to drive forward AI research in the country. 

Over half of the funding – £31m – will go to Responsible AI UK, a consortium led by the University of Southampton that aims to foster the safe and accountable use of AI, UKRI revealed. The consortium's goal is to help people understand what responsible and trustworthy AI is, how to develop it and build it into existing systems, and the impacts it will have on society.

It is led by Professor Gopal Ramchurn, of the University of Southampton. 

“Trustworthy AI tends to be looked at from a very technical perspective – i.e., it is tested and validated in well-defined settings," Ramchurn said. “However, that doesn’t mean it will be trusted by the public, government and industry.

“AI tends to be looked at by the tech community as AI that has been thoroughly tested. It can be AI that is trustworthy by the technical functionality of the application and the particular closed environments it has been tested in, but it is not trusted because maybe it uses personal data ... in ways that you would not want it to do.”

Of the funding remaining, £2m will be awarded to 42 projects to carry out feasibility studies in businesses as part of the BridgeAI programme. These are expected to speed up the adoption of trusted and responsible AI and machine learning technologies. The most successful projects will go on to receive a share of an additional £19m for further development

A further £13m will be used to fund 13 projects to help the UK meet its net-zero target, led by universities across the UK, from Edinburgh to Aberystwyth, and Leicester to Southampton.

“The UK’s expertise in the field of AI is a major asset to the country and will help develop the science and technology that will shape the fabric of many areas of our lives," said Kedar Pandya, executive director, Cross-Council Programmes at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. “That is why UKRI is continuing to invest in the people and organisations that will have wide-ranging benefit.

“For this to be successful we must invest in research and systems in which we can have trust and confidence, and ensure these considerations are integrated in all aspects of the work as it progresses. The projects and grants announced today will help us achieve this goal.”

UKRI has also awarded two new Turing AI World Leading Researcher Fellowships, to Professor Michael Bronstein and Professor Alison Noble, both based at the University of Oxford.

Since the start of the year, the UK has been looking at ways to develop these technologies ethically. With this goal in mind, the country has launched a new £100m Foundation Model Taskforce, modelled after the Covid-19 Vaccine Taskforce, which will focus on the research and development of “safe and reliable” foundational models, a type of AI used by chatbots such as ChatGPT.

Earlier this month, the government announced its plans to host the first global summit on AI safety, and confirmed the US’s attendance. 

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