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The University of Southampton

Southampton Professor calls for UK to make the most of its AI capability

Published: 16 October 2017
Students test robotic orb
New AI review calls for increased investment in industry-funded Masters programmes to boost skills

Experts from industry and academia have unveiled ambitious new proposals as part of a major review for how Government, academia and industry can work together to grow the UK’s burgeoning Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry and increase use of AI right across the economy.

The eagerly-anticipated report, Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK (published on 15 October 2017) analyses the UK’s current capability in this area and sets out bold proposals for how the UK can stay ahead of the competition and ensure the adoption of cutting-edge AI brings with it substantial benefits for people and businesses across the country.

As co-chair of the review, Dame Wendy Hall, Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, is particularly keen to ensure that it is used to “inform the establishment of initiatives and programmes to help us extract the most value from AI for the country; that includes an emphasis on increasing and improving our skill levels to prepare the workforce for the number of jobs the industry will need for the future.”

“I was very honoured to be asked to co-chair this review at a time when AI is set to make major changes to the way we live and work,” Dame Wendy continued. “AI has been around for a very long time as a concept and this latest surge of technological development is likely to see automation continue to escalate and accelerate in every walk of life. Now is the time for us all - scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and the government - to come together and address the issues about how AI is going to impact society and seek ways to ensure that we’re able to deliver the great breakthroughs the technology has the potential to deliver.”

The review, co-chaired by Jérôme Pesenti, Chief Executive of BenevolentTech with Dame Wendy, highlights how AI can boost UK productivity, and has the potential to add £630 billion to the UK economy by 2035. The report makes 18 recommendations for how to make the UK the best place in the world for businesses developing AI to start, grow, and thrive including:

Skills: increasing the UK’s expert AI expertise through new initiatives including an industry-funded Masters programme in AI, and conversion courses to help a much broader range of people to apply AI;

Increasing uptake: helping organisations and workers understand how AI can boost their productivity and make better products and services, including public services;

Data: ensuring that people and organisations can be confident that use of data for AI is safe, secure and fair; making more data available from publicly-funded research; and

Research: building on the UK’s strong record in cutting-edge AI research, with targeted proposals including making the Alan Turing Institute a national institute for AI.

The report’s recommendations for how Government, academia and industry can work together will now be carefully considered in discussions towards an Industrial Strategy sector deal between Government and the AI industry.

Artificial Intelligence is a long-established discipline at the University of Southampton with world-class researchers working in various elements of AI, including intelligent agents, machine learning, game theory, evolutionary algorithms, complexity science, biometrics and machine vision. Academics are also inspiring the next generation of experts through our highly successful MSc in Artificial Intelligence and undergraduate MEng degrees in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence and Electronic Engineering with Artificial Intelligence.

Many sectors across the UK economy are already embracing innovation through AI and benefitting from its use in how they do their business day-to-day including:

Health: Using the most advanced Artificial Intelligence, Your.MD has built the world’s first AI Personal Health Guide that provides users immediate trustworthy healthcare advice from the NHS to anyone with access to a mobile phone;

Banking: To help verify customer identity and increase security for HSBC customers, the bank has created an AI chatbot, Olivia, who can assist customers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with their enquiries;

Education: With technology that records patterns of behaviour, including what learning style works for each student, CENTURY, an AI platform, is helping children learn and teachers provide more personalised education programmes, with feedback and suggestions to help fill knowledge gaps;

Legal services: AI is helping lawyers to do legal searches and to draft the best standard documents, the law firm Pinsent Masons has developed its own team of computer scientists and legal engineers to put AI into practical context for its lawyers;

Cars: Driverless cars are set to make the roads safer for pedestrians and car drivers alike, with companies like Oxbotica developing fully autonomous operating systems that diagnose vehicle issues and identify the best, most logical route on the move.

AI is also being deployed in a variety of different ways to assist businesses and consumers such as:

  • protecting consumers and shoppers against spam and bank fraud
    computer vision that monitors CCTV to improve safety
  • managing and monitoring supply chains to reduce loss and waste
  • improving electricity grid management to save costs and reduce CO2 emissions
  • using data to provide personal shopping recommendations

The report forms a major part of the Government’s Digital Strategy and Industrial Strategy, and will help inform discussions between Government, industry and AI experts as they explore a sector deal package, to help the UK AI industry fulfil its potential. As part of the Industrial Strategy, the Government has increased investment in research and development over the next 4 years by £4.7 billion to create jobs and raise living standards through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

UK Business Secretary Greg Clark said:

“Artificial intelligence presents us with a unique opportunity to build on this track record of research excellence by leading the development and deployment of this transformational technology. It is an opportunity we simply cannot afford to miss.

“Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry is a report that exemplifies the world-class expertise the UK already has in this area, demonstrates the huge social and economic benefits its use can bring, and represents the industry’s vision for how we can lead, rather than follow the world in this field.

“We thank the industry for this comprehensive review and we will now be engaging with the sector in the coming months in an effort to secure a Sector Deal that helps us grasp the opportunities that lie ahead.”

UK Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said:

“I want the UK to lead the way in Artificial Intelligence. We have a great history, and in Alan Turing, a unique founding figure. We also have some of the best minds in the world, working in some of the world’s best universities here in the UK.

“Artificial Intelligence could improve our lives in many ways, from almost every aspect of healthcare, streamlined personal public services, better use of scarce resources, and chatbots, to robots that take over dirty dull and dangerous tasks so that people don’t have to do them. AI could create new industries and services we cannot yet imagine.

“I want to thank Dame Wendy and Jérôme for their work and their insights, and also to thank the businesses and experts who contributed to the review.”


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