UK Governments National AI Strategy

01-11-2021 | By Robin Mitchell

Recently, the UK Government announced its National AI Strategy that will see AI development accelerate to prevent it from falling behind in the technology race. What challenges do countries such as China pose, what does the National AI Strategy include, and what challenges will the UK face?

What challenges do foreign nations present over AI?

AI is a technology that has dramatically changed life in the past decade. The ability for a computer system to learn and improve itself over time has led to technologies such as smart devices, accurate speech-to-text, and intelligent systems that can change their configuration to specific user preferences. The fast-paced nature of the AI industry has IoT and other data gathering industries to thank, as, without large amounts of data, AI cannot improve itself.

However, AI also has the possibility to do significant harm to technology and society as a whole which is why some governments, such as the EU, are introducing legislation to monitor and regulate the use of AI. For example, AI will be restricted in applications that may see individuals ranked based on their credit history or political persuasion. It will be outright banned in applications that try to create social credit rankings.

While the west continues to regulate and monitor AI technology, countries such as China who have absolutely no regard for human rights, freedoms, or privacy, have pushed AI to its limits. The mass deployment of cameras, reporting systems, and social credit programs has enabled China to become the world’s most powerful nation in AI development.

This leaves the west in a problematic position; military and technology supremacy is essential, but regulations protecting citizens’ rights and freedoms keep powerful technologies such as AI from advancing.

UK Government announces National AI Strategy

Recently, the UK government announced its National AI Strategy in response to the failings of the west and the rising power of AI by foreign nations. Fundamentally, the goal of the National AI Strategy is to make the UK an AI superpower in the next ten years by providing developers with the investment, tools, and opportunities needed to do so while simultaneously protecting British values (such as rights, freedoms, and privacy).

The announcement does not mention if the UK government will directly fund the AI project (it most likely will) but does outline the amount of funding that has already been spent on AI research. So far, expenditure in AI includes the NHS, road and traffic, university training, UKRI, and multiple UK-based AI companies. Overall, the UK government has spent over £2.3 billion on AI technologies since 2014.

With regards to future investments, the goal of the National AI Strategy is to create an ecosystem that supports the long-term development of AI technologies. Such investments can come from the private sector, who themselves will be looking to generate income from AI technologies. Still, such investments will ensure that AI technologies continue to be developed in the UK. The investment strategy would also ensure skill diversity for opportunities to ensure that fresh new ideas are available to AI developers and that AI developers have access to large quantities of data and supercomputers needed to develop complex AI algorithms.

The new strategy also talks about how the government will look into proper regulation of AI to ensure that it is not used for malicious purposes or purposes that would otherwise infringe on the rights of UK citizens.

Such protection will be assured by revising data protection rules to ensure that personal data is carefully controlled, encouraging cooperation between various regulators, and promoting UK regulation to the international community.

What challenges does the UK face?

The National AI Strategy is a very long document that can be read on the official government website, and while it shows promise in the UK becoming an AI powerhouse, there are some challenges that the UK will have to face.

The biggest challenge is how countries such as China have a major advantage over AI development thanks to their bridging of government-sanctioned AI research with massive amounts of data gathered by the government. If the UK government were to exercise the same practice on its citizens, it would most likely result in mass protests, violent riots, and potentially a civil war, depending on how the government used such data.

As such, the UK will need to find data gathering and data control methods that allow AI systems to be trained rapidly while simultaneously respecting user privacy. This could be encouraged by offering users payment for data in return, which could be backed by the government. Users would be able to select what data they share, and more personal information could present higher rewards.

Overall, the UK needs to catch up in the AI race, but how the UK can do this remains unclear.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.