AI in the UK: Year in Review

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As a company focused heavily on enabling AI processing, it’s important to us that the country where we live is supporting efforts around AI technology development and policy. Indeed, the government, academic institutions, investors, and the entire ecosystem in the UK are driving the future in these areas. Today, the UK is a global leader in AI development and is looking to take an even greater role in the future.

2018 was a pivotal year for AI in the UK, so we thought we’d take a moment to share some of the major developments that occurred over the last 12 months.

The year kicked off with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech at Davos, where she said, “…we are establishing the UK as a world leader in artificial intelligence, building on the success of British companies… We have seen a new AI start-up created in the UK every week for the last three years. And we are investing in the skills these start-ups need, spending £45 million to support additional PhDs in AI and related disciplines and creating at least 200 extra places a year by 2020-21.”

Clearly, education is where continued AI innovation will come from. It is imperative that we educate the next generation of data scientists. At Imagination, we believe education is incredibly important and we have a proven program for graduates and school placements – please take a look at our vacancies and spread the word to others.

Prime Minister May also announced at Davos that the UK would join the World Economic Forum’s new council on AI, and she stressed the importance of establishing standards for responsible AI development, such as how we can ensure that algorithms don’t perpetuate the biases of their developers. To that end, she announced that the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) would work with international partners to build an understanding of how to ensure the safe, ethical and innovative deployment of AI.

At Imagination, we believe that ethics is a critical concern, as AI enters nearly every aspect of our lives. In an earlier article on the Big Innovation Centre website, Andrew Grant, Senior Director of Vision and AI at Imagination, weighed in on AI ethics in autonomous vehicles, noting that, “No manufacturer wants to be the subject of a class action or to be the first AI that accidentally runs over child A to avoid running over child B. [It’s] the ethical ‘who’s driving dilemma,’ – is it the AI, the auto-manufacturer, the person in the car, the programmer, or the person who has set the rules for the autonomous driving system? And if an element of the AI is self-taught, where do we go with ‘responsibility’ then. … the technology is here now and the ethical/legal/policy-making debate needs to play catch-up.”

Imagination’s Andrew Grant (second from right) participating in a
Digital Catapult panel about the impact of AI on the UK economy

Throughout 2018, we continued to see developments around AI policy. This included The Lords AI Report which was released in March. This report, as well as the Hall-Pesenti report from late 2017, are in-depth investigations designed to inform future policy.

The Ada Lovelace Institute (Ada) was also established in 2018. According to its prospectus, ‘Ada will promote informed public understanding of the impact of AI and data-driven technologies on different groups in society. It will guide ethical practice in the development and deployment of these technologies and will undertake research and long-term thinking to lay the foundations for a data-driven society with well-being at its core.’

In December, the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced programmes supported by £48 million of funding delivered through the Strategic Priorities Fund that will ‘use data-driven approaches to understand the impact of the Industrial Revolution and the mechanisation of work, and draw lessons that can be used in the 21st century as we undergo a digital industrial revolution.’

Part of the heavy investment that the UK government is making in AI includes working closely with industry leaders to inform policy decisions. Focused on the topics of driving funding for AI and reskilling the workforce for the AI future, Imagination’s Grant has been involved with All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence (APPG-AI) evidence sessions at the House of Lords for the last 18 months. In written evidence he provided to the APPG-AI that was published at the end of 2017, Grant noted, “AI raises major issues for the future of work and the concept of ‘employment.’ What will people do as AI automates ‘work’ – manual, skilled and professional?”

For the sake of time, we won’t go into all of the AI policy developments here, but we would point you to the Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence for some of the latest updates. The bottom line is that the UK government and others are investing heavily in AI development in the UK.

AI in UK Healthcare

One of the areas where the UK is leading in AI is healthcare. In May, Theresa May said, “The UK will use data, artificial intelligence, and innovation to transform the prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, and dementia by 2030.”

In November, it was announced that five new AI healthcare centres are set to open in 2019 across the UK, using AI to speed disease detection and improve treatment. In December, the UK government announced the second Life Sciences Sector Deal with more than £1.3 billion of funding for government and industry to use AI in developing the next generation of life-saving early disease detection technology. Separately, a trial at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London found that AI technology could diagnose eye disease as accurately as some leading experts.

In addition to using AI for diagnosis and detection, the National Health Service (NHS) sees opportunities to improve asset allocation and office management, with the aim of improving the overall healthcare system. Working with Thoughtonomy, The East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) has reportedly already cut the time taken to process the first stage of each GP referral from 15-20 minutes down to five minutes.


AI in Academia

The UK has some of the leading universities in machine learning and AI. In London alone, there are 13 universities offering AI-related degrees. In 2018, University College London (UCL) announced it will open a new integrated centre for AI hosted by its Computer Science department where over 200 UCL researchers will create a hub of advanced R&D and learning. Imperial College London is also recognised as a world leader in AI research and has over 600 staff working on AI projects.

The UK’s advances in AI research and development are also being led out of the Alan Turing Institute, a national centre for data science and AI, as well as new centres specifically devoted to AI studies on ethics and impact of the technology on humanity and society, which are emerging at universities across the UK. This includes the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge and the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford. Experts from these latter two institutions and 12 other global institutions/companies issued a report in 2018, ‘The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, and Mitigation’. The report looks at ways in which attackers could use AI in malicious ways and explores how we as a society might mitigate such threats. We encourage you to read the report and consider the questions for further study in Appendix B. A key takeaway is that we need more experts involved in this important conversation.

UK: Leading the AI Revolution

In October, the Big Innovation Centre and Deep Knowledge Analytics, in conjunction with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence, created a new report, “Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK 2018”. According to the report, the UK’s leadership in AI is partly due to investment in global artificial intelligence reaching £3.8 billion – a level of funding that is set to grow. Commenting on the report, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence Lord Clement-Jones noted: “…we have now reached the inflection point which can be reasonably described as the Cambrian Explosion of AI in the UK.”

New research from Pitchbook (via CNBC) found that between 2015 and 2017 AI developers in London saw a venture capital funding increase of more than 200 per cent.

In addition to funding, other key elements that are making the UK a world leader in AI include new and larger volumes of data; availability of increasingly powerful computing capacity; and a good number of experts with the specific high-level skills. In fact, a February 2018 study by AI research organization JF Gagne found the UK had the world’s second-highest concentration of high-profile AI professionals.

Nonetheless, as a recent article by Wendy Hall in Wired Magazine points out, “Like so many other countries, the UK has an AI skills gap that we will need to close if we want to remain at the forefront of AI innovation.”

Because of the skills gap, just about every AI company is looking for expertise – including Imagination. So… shameless plug: If you’re interested in joining a growing team of experts working on PowerVR Vision & AI products, such as our new PowerVR Series3NX Neural Network Accelerator (and future products) check out our careers page.

Looking ahead

It’s clear that AI will continue to mature in 2019, with perhaps some of the hype removed. As an industry, we need to focus on continued scientific advancements, and on building our understanding of the potential risks as we rush toward making true AI a reality. At Imagination, we are excited to be a part of the AI revolution and will continue to develop innovations with an eye toward responsibility and a better future for everyone.

Jo Jones

Jo Jones

Jo is the Technology Communications Manager at Imagination Technologies. With an extensive background in technology PR, Jo has worked with a range of B2B and B2C brands in a number of sectors prior to joining Imagination. You can follow Jo on Twitter at @JoAshford83

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