Artificial intelligence (AI) has long captured people’s imaginations.
It has been a theme of science fiction novels and films for more than half a century and, while reality has always seemed a long way behind the fiction, that is now changing.
AI is finally living up to its promise and has the potential to improve almost every aspect of our lives. Indeed, entire industries of which we cannot yet conceive might be created.
Britain now has an opportunity to become the world-leader in this technology, to shape the revolution, create thousands of jobs, and transform lives for the better.
Accenture has estimated AI could add in the region of £654bn to the UK economy by 2035. This week, we will publish the government’s Digital Strategy, which will set out clearly how we intend to capitalise on that potential.
Properly deployed, AI has the potential to make us healthier and more efficient. It is starting to help diagnose diseases with greater accuracy and identify when elderly people are likely to fall, by studying their movements. It can determine when traffic lights or speed limits need to change to keep traffic flowing. It can predict when equipment in factories is likely to fail and should be replaced.
AI is changing our world, and will continue to do so in coming years. This undeniably presents a challenge, but it is also a huge opportunity. The challenge is to ensure the technology develops with proper safeguards and in a way the public support.
The opportunity is that Britain is at the forefront of shaping the AI revolution and reaping the benefits, including new jobs and more growth.
I want the UK to lead the way. We are already pioneers in this exciting technology. We have some of the best minds in the world, working in some of the world’s best universities. We have earned a reputation for brilliance in AI. Consequently, some of the most exciting companies at the cutting edge of AI, such as Babylon Health, Onfido and Improbable are based here.
The government’s Industrial Strategy set out how we will back Britain for the long term by building upon strategic strengths so businesses can grow and create more high-skilled, high-paid jobs. AI is one of those strengths, so we want to hear how government and industry can work together to support it.
As ever more decisions affecting our lives are taken by computers, we must get the rules right. People must have confidence in AI if we are to embrace it.
That confidence is dependent on proper frameworks and safeguards. People need to know the machines are not making up the rules as they go.
As the lead minister for the digital economy, I am determined to get this right. That will require some clear principles, whether they are about preventing systems driven by AI from importing prejudices, or ensuring that decision-making remains accountable.
And there will of course be many areas when we decide we always need humans in decision-making processes.
If we get this right, we can make sure we all benefit from AI’s potential to improve our lives. We can find the sweet spot where the tech can develop in a way that people continue to support.
The Royal Society and British Academy have started looking at this issue. We look forward to seeing the results of their work, and will build on this with others as we think about the principles and frameworks that we will need to put in place.
This country has a proud history of technological innovation and of making technology work for us, and we have a government that understands that our future prosperity depends on innovation. But that does not mean we can rest on our laurels. I am delighted that Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jerome Pesenti have agreed to review what Britain needs to do to stay ahead on AI, encompassing everything from skills to investment. Between them, Wendy and Jerome have a wealth of expertise in academia and business, and are perfectly placed to lead this work.
And we have also made emerging technologies such as AI a key part of the UK’s Digital Strategy. It outlines our vision of a digital economy that works for all our citizens and how to achieve it. And it includes £17.3m of new funding to keep British universities at the forefront of pioneering robotics and AI research.
The digital revolution is happening – and it is speeding up. Instead of getting left behind, we can make it work for everyone in the UK and lead the world.