By Jonathan Vanian
April 25, 2018

The United Kingdom is planning a big investment in artificial intelligence technologies in a deal worth nearly £1 billion, or about $1.3 billion.

The U.K. government said Thursday that part of its multi-year AI investment–about £300 million, or more than $400 million–would come from U.K.-based corporations and investment firms and those located outside the country.

Some of the U.S.-based companies involved with the U.K.’s AI deal include Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, McKinsey, and Pfizer, but the U.K. did not say how much each firm was planning to individually invest. A few of these U.S. companies helped consult on an earlier independent review on developing AI in the U.K. that the government is using as a template for its new initiative.

Antony Phillipson, the United Kingdom’s trade commissioner for North America, said that the investments are part of a broader set of initiatives the U.K. government is undertaking to address several areas U.K. lawmakers believe will soon affect the country’s economy and society. These include revamping the company’s transportation infrastructure, investing in clean energy, and dealing with an aging populace.

Regarding artificial intelligence, Phillipson said that the rise of cutting-edge data-crunching technologies have the potential to “transform a whole host of sectors,” whether they be life sciences and the development of new drugs or improved manufacturing.

As part of the deal, the Japanese venture capital firm Global Brain plans to invest about $48 million in U.K. tech startups and will open a European headquarters in the United Kingdom. The University of Cambridge will also give U.K. businesses access to a new $13 million supercomputer to help with AI-related projects.

Canadian venture capital firm Chrysalix will also open a European headquarters in the U.K. and plans to invest more than $100 million in local startups specializing in AI and robotics.

The U.K.’s investments to bolster the state of AI in the country follow recent endeavors by other nations like France and China. Advances in AI technologies like deep learning have led to feats like the ability to teach computers to quickly recognize patterns in enormous quantities of data.

Phillipson concedes that AI itself is a broad topic, and while deep learning appears to be driving much of the innovation in the research world, the U.K. will also invest in startups that are not specifically focused on that particular subset of AI. They just have to show some sort of capability in “exploiting big data” that can lead to advancements in other areas like life sciences, he said.

The U.K. will also create a “Data Ethics and Innovation” center worth about $12 million that’s intended to help address some of the ethical issues arising out of AI technologies. Numerous research organizations have called for technologists, government, and companies to address some of the issues AI and increased automation could have on society, like its potential to displace jobs and lead to powerful weapons used in warfare.

Phillipson didn’t provide specific details on the center’s plans, but said they would include creating some sort of universal framework governing the ethical use of AI, and how that framework should be implemented. This could involve legislative measures, codes of conduct, or a more hands-off approach from government in which businesses will lead the efforts.

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Regarding China and its desire to become the world’s leader in AI technologies by 2030, Philipson said that “China is making a big play and investing considerable amounts of money.”

“I’m not sure we’re looking to compete with China on that scale,” he added.

 

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