Published on November 19, 2019
AI in the UK
The Westminster eForum Policy Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AI) brought together government, industry and researchers to provide an update on the UK AI sector. Topics discussed included the skills and research needed to advance the field, the UK’s international position on AI, and updates on the Sector Deal. Here is a summary of my three key takeaways from the event.
AI will become a key element for business
The government’s AI sector deal aims to create “an economy that boosts productivity and earning power throughout the UK”. To deliver this the government has committed up to £0.95 billion to the AI Sector. Up until now AI has been accused of “selling the future” rather than providing tangible benefits to companies straight away. This is changing, and UK data shows that organisations that use AI outperform those that don’t by 11.5% (up from 5% in 2018). This highlights the need to train the existing UK workforce to effectively use AI to boost business performance. This training should be embedded in higher education courses but also made available to existing professionals.
AI Venture Capitalists are still looking for the basics
Venture Capitalists (VCs) have seen the potential of AI and in 2018, invested $1.3bn in UK AI start-ups. James Wise, a partner at the VC investor Balderton Capital, let us know the two key things he looks for in an AI startup:
- The team – this is considered by VCs as one of the riskiest yet vital elements to the success of an AI company. VCs de-risk their investments by favouring companies which already have a strong team when they pitch for funding.
- Agility – this is perceived by VCs as the ability of a company to iterate both its data and models. This is an essential asset in the AI sector, and it is essential for startups to compete with large incumbent companies.
We must create structure to promote AI
The UK AI sector is growing, but adoption is not uniform and promoting the adoption of AI, both by companies and customers, is a big challenge. At the Westminster eForum, three main strategies were proposed to improve AI adoption.
- De-risk investment in AI by providing legal certainty. AI provides ground-breaking new technologies, but this is testing the limits of current legal systems. This creates uncertainty and risk that is slowing investment. Adoption could be increased by updating existing laws and developing new laws to govern use of AI.
- Educate customers. As well as educating entrepreneurs on the advantages of AI, we must ensure they are “smart” customers, able to evaluate the multiple AI technologies being offered. This might prevent AI from being oversold on hype, fostering greater trust between AI and the public.
- De-risk investment by testing customer demand early. Early customer testing is needed in the development phase of AI applications. Too many ideas are waiting until late development stages to validate market demand. This can waste resources, slow adoption and is deterring investment.
As the AI sector evolves, innovators must develop strategies to incorporate AI into the foundations of its knowledge exchange and commercialisation offerings. For Oxentia, this means continuing to work in collaboration with industry and researchers to ensure that our innovation ecosystems are equipped to face the challenges and maximise the opportunities of AI.
 AI Sector Deal https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/artificial-intelligence-sector-deal/ai-sector-deal
 Microsoft.com, “AI Report”, source