A central computer processor
The government see AI as a key part of the UK's economic future. iStock

Anyone who has used ChatGPT will be familiar with the impressive new capabilities of large language models. As this kind of technology develops, controversial questions over the future role of ever more sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) systems within society are only going to get more salient.

For example, according to Bill Gates, teachers could eventually be replaced by chatbots like ChatGPT. Whilst AI may certainly have a key role in future education, in my estimation, the potential ousting of human teachers would be highly controversial.

However, it is not only teachers that could be replaced by AI in the future. The development of AI could have a major effect on the wider job market as a whole, with many roles exposed to automation and others potentially replaceable altogether.

Furthermore, deeper concerns exist over the risk that AI poses to the future of human civilisation itself. Consequently, high-profile individuals in the tech space including the likes of Elon Musk have proposed a pause in AI development in an open letter.

An 'Expert Taskforce'

In the midst of discussion and controversy over the future of AI, the race to develop it and extrapolate its benefits is well underway. This reality is reflected in the recent UK government announcement to invest £100 million of start-up funding into a Foundation Taskforce Model, or in other words an "expert taskforce", that will help shape the future of British AI development.

Due to being appointed this summer, the Taskforce will be led by an expert chair and report directly to the Prime Minister and Technology Secretary. The investment comes in addition to the £900 million the government have already committed in the recent spring budget to create an "exascale supercomputer" as well as an "AI Research Resource".

Intended to replicate the success of the COVID-19 Vaccines Taskforce, The new Taskforce will develop "pivotal" forms of AI throughout the British economy with safety and reliability in mind.

According to the government, the purpose of the Taskforce is to "focus on opportunities to establish the UK as a world leader in foundation models and their applications across the economy," and play the role of "a global standard bearer for AI safety." The Taskforce will also focus on "developing the safety and reliability of foundation models, both at a scientific and commercial level," working with the technology sector to achieve this.

The emphasis on safety is intended to ensure that AI is trustworthy in the eyes of the public and businesses. Crucially, if AI systems are not trustworthy our willingness to adopt them will likely be dented.

Specifically, the government place an emphasis on ensuring the "broad adoption of safe and reliable foundation models." Large language models such as ChatGPT and Google Bard are types of foundation models, which are developed through the use of large data sets – including text, images, video, and audio – that enable models to be competent at a broad range of tasks.

International competition and AI benefits

The Taskforce is expected to help Britain "cement" its status as a "science and technology superpower" by the year 2030.

This implies that the government's focus on AI is motivated by international competition in the domain of technological innovation, which could define the future economic success and hard power of nation-states. Specifically, they claim that technology will constitute 7 per cent of global GDP growth over the next 10 years, identifying the importance of taking such opportunities to grow the British economy.

The government also outline the potential benefits of AI development both for public services and for the wider economy.

In terms of public services, for medical staff, AI can speed up diagnosis. For teachers, the government claim AI can free up their time, allowing them to focus on "delivering excellent teaching". In terms of the wider economy, the government refer to research indicating the potential of AI systems "to triple national productivity growth rates" if adopted throughout the country. Moreover, they also claim that AI has the potential to boast the British GDP by billions.