The UK government has set over £100million aside for researching and developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, and to support regulation in the space.
Just shy of £90million of funding will go towards launching nine new research hubs across the UK, which will help experts leverage AI technology across the likes of healthcare, chemistry, and mathematics.
Another £19million will also support 21 projects that will look to develop trusted and responsible AI and machine learning solutions to accelerate deployment of the emerging technology and further drive productivity. Around £2million of Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding will also support new research projects to help define what responsible AI looks like across sectors such as education, policing and the creative industries.
Meanwhile, the government pledged £10million to prepare and upskill regulators to address and make the most of the opportunities presented by AI. It hopes the fund will support regulators as they develop ‘cutting-edge’ research and practical tools to monitor and address risks and opportunities across a variety of sectors.
In an official release, the government explained that it “will not rush to legislate, or risk implementing ‘quick-fix’ rules”, outlining its intentions in black and white: innovation is the priority. It will use a ‘context-based’ approach to empower regulators to address AI risks in a targeted way.
In a drive to boost transparency, key regulators, such as Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), will publish their approaches to managing AI technology by 30 April 2024.
However, the £10million in funding will have to be spread across 90 different regulators, equivalent to a little over £100,000 each, begging the question of whether this funding is anywhere near enough to make an impact as the technology rapidly develops.
Hurdles to overcome
As Jonathan Boakes, managing director at Infinum, explains, regulation of AI continues to change rapidly, causing problems for businesses: “Research shows 78 per cent of UK businesses plan to invest in AI in the next year, but 73 per cent feel unprepared for its integration.
“Success in the AI revolution demands more than just plugging gaps with cash. It requires strategic planning, workforce training, and expert collaboration to maximise the impact and prevent implementing AI for AI’s sake.
“The constantly changing regulatory environment poses challenges for businesses, as they navigate complex standards such as GDPR, HIPAA, industry-specific laws, and the outcomes of AI Summits in the UK, EU, and beyond.”
AI governance remains a key issue for a significant proportion of UK businesses already engaging with AI technology, but the new moves could head the region in the right direction, suggests Greg Hanson, GVP and head of sales EMEA North at Informatica.
“Nearly all businesses in the UK who have adopted AI admit to having encountered roadblocks,” says Hanson.
“In fact, 43 per cent say AI governance is the main obstacle. Businesses need greater guidance from regulators and industry bodies on how to manage the risks posed by AI. But the new research hubs will hopefully get the ball rolling.
“But while businesses wait for regulators to catch up, the focus should be on protecting the integrity of AI systems by ensuring the foundations and controls for AI tools are robust.
“They need to have full transparency of the data used to train AI models. And perhaps just as important, businesses need to understand the decisions AI models are making and why.”
An agile and innovation-first approach
While £10million may look like a drop in the ocean in the grand scheme of things, Luke Budka, AI director at Definition, believes there will be more where the funding comes from: “Regulators get a lot of column inches in the report and the £10million looks like an initial round of funding, a ‘jumpstart’ as such.
“Regulators will also be supported by a new central AI function, established within government, to monitor and assess risks across the whole economy and support regulator coordination, this investment looks like it sits separate from the £10million. We’d expect to see further funding released, as and when regulators outline their strategic approach to AI.
“The overall consultation message is one of agility and expert central gov AI support – the team of people working on AI issues has already increased from 20 to 160 in the last 12 months, with it predicted to rise to 270 this year – designed to ensure the UK can innovate quickly and maximise a $1trillion growth opportunity.”
Michal Szymczak, head of AI strategy at digital solutions provider Zartis, also appears to share this sentiment: “If anything, the disparity between the funds for advancing research and the funds for regulators is a positive sign that the UK government is getting serious about adopting a more agile approach that fosters true innovation.
“AI regulation thus far has been too aggressive, and there’s already too much of it. The UK, like every other country, does need rules on AI but these should err on the side of not snuffing out innovation.
“It’s a stark contrast to the EU’s approach of rapid-fire churning out regulation without knowing its full capabilities.”
Balancing both innovation and safety
Niamh Kingsley, head of product innovation and artificial intelligence at Delta Capita, the global financial services provider of managed services, technology solutions and consulting, explains that this approach is ‘exactly’ what the space needs: “Major growth is anticipated in the UK’s AI market, and investments that balance both innovation and safety will make that reality happen faster and more sustainably.
“Preparing regulators for the next wave of AI innovation is crucial. By allocating £10million to upskilling regulatory bodies and giving them the tools they need to manage the new risks that AI has created, the UK has clearly demonstrated its agile, adaptable approach to regulation, particularly across sectors where AI has the biggest potential to transform operations, such as financial services.
“It is also fantastic to see a female-led group running the Frontier AI regulation policy team in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. A refreshing and positive message that the next generation of technologies are transforming our society in more ways than one.”
Becoming an AI world-leader
Charlie Thompson, senior vice president of EMEA at business management platform Appian, also believes the funding will help position the UK as a leader in AI innovation: “The UK government’s commitment to an agile and context-based approach to AI regulation is a positive step forward. By allocating substantial funds of over £100million to support regulators and advance research in key industries, the government is forward-looking and recognising the dynamic nature of AI development.
“The emphasis on transparency and accountability for developers of advanced AI systems aligns with the need for responsible innovation, while accounting for fairness and personal data privacy protection. It’s encouraging to see the UK taking a leadership role in AI policy, fostering an environment that balances innovation with the necessary safeguards for the public and businesses alike.
“We look forward to seeing plans from regulators in April, additional requirements, and how these get implemented at speed to sustain the momentum and leadership the UK government established in AI regulation and innovation.”