The AI Sector Deal, explained


What is the AI Sector Deal?

The AI Sector Deal is HM Government’s first official report on the state and future of artificial intelligence in the UK. Published in April 2018, the Deal follows a review written by Dame Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti on recommendations for governance and development of AI. It is a joint publication by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport. Like the UK’s Industrial Strategy, Government’s plan for business development, the Deal centers on the five foundations of ‘ideas, people, infrastructure, business environment and places’ to enhance productivity and ensure the flourishing of AI technologies in their crucial nascent stage. The Deal further builds on the UK’s Digital Strategy, which focuses on telecommunications, data and enterprise as pillars of the economy. 


What does Government want to achieve?

The AI Sector Deal sets out various goals and targets for both the public and private sector for each foundation, particularly seeking to foster collaboration between business and Government. It is important to note that the Deal focuses more on business development and matters of economic growth and investment rather than equally essential questions of ethics and regulation. The Deal’s provisions for future regulation by establishing new institutions and acknowledging the importance for new frameworks are welcome, and will need to be built on in the coming years.  



For the Ideas foundation of the economy, the Deal secures commitments by government to foster innovation in both the private and public sector by increasing R&D spending, investing in key businesses and supporting research and academia. Funding opportunities such as Next Generation Services and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund are put forward as potential opportunities for subsidising AI applications in key sectors such as extreme environments, in order to support those working in offshore, nuclear energy, space inter alia. To improve public sector outcomes, the GovTech Fund also exists to encourage innovation where public services are concerned. Government also pledges to work closely with academia, providing grants to data science and AI research and creating new centres for doctoral training. Google, Amazon, Element AI and other significant businesses have been singled out for investment by Government. 



The future of work is clearly on Government’s mind, as how to collaborate with schools, universities and employers to produce the workforces of tomorrow are central to the People foundation. It is acknowledged that blue and white collar workers alike will need to be upskilled, reskilled and retrained to allow AI to benefit as many as possible. To create an educated base for the deployment, development and use of AI, skills-based investment will take place, with a particular focus on mathematics, digital, computer science and technical skills. The National Centre for Computing Education and the National Retraining Scheme have been created for this very purpose. For more advanced-level investment, Government is partnering with The Alan Turing Institute, national research body on AI and data science, to provide fellowships and doctoral studentships in an attempt to draw and create global research influence. 



Infrastructure is the foundation which contains more rigorous consideration of questions of regulation. Data trusts, for instance, are put forward as a potential new type of equitable data sharing framework which could institutionalise new norms for data privacy across industry. Given the questions that the use of Big Data raises for privacy and democracy, Government consideration of new types of cooperative regulation are encouraging. The Deal also comments on increasing the availability of data to the public and to develop open data standards for industry to enhance transparency. Ultimately, the Deal seeks to invest in the UK’s digital infrastructure in the delivery of full-fibre broadband, as pledged by PM Boris Johnson, and 5G through partnership with telecommunications providers. 


Business Environment

To support AI development, the Deal hails the creation of new institutions: The Office for Artificial Intelligence, tasked with creating and developing AI strategy, the AI Council, an expert committee composed of figures from industry and academia, and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which will focus on data science and regulation. Government seeks to expand investment in AI domestically and internationally, stressing the importance of attracting AI businesses to the UK and creating an environment to foster growth. Promotion of AI businesses at trade missions, AI exhibitions and conferences, various business funds and pension fund reform are all policies proposed to these ends. 



Finally, the Places foundation seeks to support clusters of AI development in particular regions of the UK. Companies and startups such as Tech Nation and Digital Catapult have been identified. Regional clusters and devolved administrations have also been singled out for investment and equal representation in AI development, a sentiment echoed by PM Johnson in his plan to ‘level-up’ the UK. Just as with the other foundations, Government plans to work with academia, notably The Alan Turing Institute, in R&D initiatives to democratise access to AI hardware and expertise. 


Looking to the future

The purview of the AI Sector Deal is, predictably, limited to more general questions of innovation and investment, with little offered by way of ethics or regulation. The need for regulatory frameworks for AI is well established and understood. Ultimately, as the report’s remit is that of innovation and development, this commitment is not one that wholeheartedly alleviates regulatory concerns, and in fact might exacerbate them given Government’s desire to capitalise on the growth of Big Data and increase the availability of datasets for both the public and private sector; however, the Deal demonstrates the UK’s commitment to AI policy that will no doubt lead to consideration of more rigorous regulation.


Written by Stephanie Sheir.


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