“Most of us realized the impact of AI (Artificial Intelligence) is no longer just science fiction… I think it has moved to become science fact” Dr. Mike Short, Chief Scientific Adviser, UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) said during his presentation at the recent AIMed Europe 2019 took place in Central London between 17 and 19 September. In brief, Dr. Short highlighted some of the country’s strength in initiating innovations and AI; clusters, accelerators and funding supporting the related developments, as well as industrial strategies targeting at various grand challenges. 

Why the UK? 

Strong market opportunities, according to Dr. Short, had made the UK a cut above the rest. “A report published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on AI showed Britain has at least 1000 companies specializing in AI. We already know the UK is often the top 3 or 4 in the world based on academic research, investment learning, and our long-standing capabilities in many other areas.” He explained. 

“Looking more broadly, AI will add £620 billion by year 2035. Our government is putting attention: bringing together talents and creating a strong community of expertise; opening up through various activities and funding, and continuing to support the internationally recognized universities which some of you are presented in here today. I think without that combination, we wouldn’t be able to speak proudly of our capabilities”. 

Dr. Short went on giving examples of AI clusters and groups supporting AI in the UK. Mainly, higher institutions in Oxford, Bristol, Edinburgh, Cambridge, and London that are actively researching and advancing computer science and “tend to be at the foremost of people’s mind, when they visit the UK for investments”. Also, the Digital Catapult, the British government’s innovation agency that is running events and workshops; Turing Institute which is backed by around 12 universities to head and maximize the impact of AI research; Innovate UK which has regular funding calls and so on. 

Dr. Mike Short explaining some of UK’s strength in AI on stage.

“Being linked to a cluster means being linked to a public network. It’s a lot easier than to access to the masses and investments… When we look at other group beyond geography, we can start to see credit association and other organizations,” Dr. Short remarked. 

“At the same time, we can also see a lot more investment funds or accelerators putting in time and attention to these individuals and entrepreneurs”. One of which is the AI Sector Deal put in place since 2018. The £0.95 billion investment aimed to improve data access, data trust, ethics, the supply of skills and uptake of AI across academic institutions and industries. 

The grand challenges 

Nevertheless, the route to an AI nation is not paved straight. AI and data are part of the Grand Challenges recognized by the UK government that need to be addressed before the future arrives. The others include aging society: ensuring people can enjoy at least five extra, independent years of life by 2035 while narrowing the gap between the richest and the poorest; future of mobility: designing and manufacturing zeroemission vehicles by 2040, and clean growth: at least halve the energy of new buildings by 2030. 

Like many other countries, Dr. Short thought the UK also faces a similar issue of not being able to transfer technologies into more disciplines. “As compared to big countries like the US and China, we also have limited access to really big datasets. However, what we do have is a really strong skill-based that we can build on. When it comes to AI and innovation, skill is just as important as data”.

Dr. Short believed our connectivity is likely to improve as 5G network kicks in and the number of devices will grow from around 9 billion today to 25 billion with the next six years but this will not take place equally. There are going to be developmental gaps and prices to pay even though there will be better access to healthcare information and clinicians. 

Despite so, “ the explosion of devices will not be a story but an industrial view: the fusion of AI, 5G and IoT (Internet of Things) will bring in specialists from different areas. There will be lots of activities in the innovation space”. Whilst it’s hard to predict what would be the eventual outcome, “we need to keep the innovation moving,” Dr. Short said. 

Author Bio
synthetic gene empathy chinese artificial intelligence data medicine healthcare ai

Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.