Artificial Intelligence
The development of artificial intelligence has created both opportunities and challenges for businesses seeking to keep up to date with new technology. AFP / OLIVIER MORIN

Britain will become "AI match-fit", according to the government, after it pledged a £118 boost for AI skills funding.

The investment, which was first made public last week, aims to "ensure the country has the top global expertise and fosters the next generation of researchers needed to seize the transformational benefits of AI technology."

This includes naming, for the first time, the further 12 Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT) in AI that will benefit from £117 million in previously-announced government backing through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), while a new visa scheme will make it easier for the most innovative businesses to bring talented AI researchers in their early careers to the UK.

The universities involved in the AI CDTs include Heriot-Watt University, University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Northumbria University, University of Bristol, University of Lincoln, University of Aberdeen, University of Strathclyde, Queen's University Belfast, University of Manchester, University of Cambridge, University of Oxford, University of Southampton, University of Surrey, University of York and Royal Holloway and University of London.

The first cohort of AI CDT students will start in the 2024 to 2025 academic year, recruitment for which will begin shortly.

According to Michelle Donelon, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, the UK is "at the very forefront of the global race to turn AI's enormous potential into a giant leap forward for people's quality of life and productivity at work, all while ensuring this technology works safely, ethically and responsibly."

In comments published alongside the announcement, she claimed the plans would "future-proof the nation's skills base, meaning British people can reap the benefits of AI as it continues to develop."

The investment also covers the creation of a £1 million AI Futures Grants scheme to help AI workers meet the costs of relocating to the UK, as well as 15 scholarships for international students from 14 countries, allowing them to the UK to study Science and Technology courses.

These measures come in addition to the previously announced £8.1m in postgraduate course scholarships in AI and data science.

The scholarships, administered by the Office for Students, have supported over 2,600 scholarships targeted at disadvantaged groups across 31 higher education providers since 2020.

"The UK is in a strong position to harness the power of AI to transform many aspects of our lives for the better," said UKRI chief executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser.

"Crucial to this endeavour is nurturing the talented people and teams we need to apply AI to a broad spectrum of challenges, from healthy ageing to sustainable agriculture, ensuring its responsible and trustworthy adoption."

These latest investments represent the Government's attempt to place Britain at the forefront of AI development and regulation.

Last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosted the world's first "AI Summit" in Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.

In the build-up to the conference, Sunak announced the establishment of a 'world first' UK AI safety institute.

The organisation will aim to "advance the world's knowledge of AI safety".

"It will carefully examine, evaluate and test new types of AI so that we understand what each new model is capable of," Sunak said in a speech at the Royal Society, an association of leading scientists.

The summit then saw the agreement of countries including the UK, United States and China on the "need for international action to understand and collectively manage potential risks through a new joint global effort to ensure AI is developed and deployed in a safe, responsible way for the benefit of the global community".

This was named 'The Bletchley Declaration'.

Since AI's explosion into the mainstream discourse last year, with the creation of ChatGPT, fears over the rapid development of advanced systems have been expressed by many within the science and technology community.

It even prompted hundreds of experts to communicate concern In a letter issued by the Future of Life Institute, stating: "They (advanced AI systems) should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable."

However, recent applications of the technology have also led to groundbreaking advances in its scientific and medical benefits.

For example, researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that may help doctors detect cancer. The use of AI technology in diagnosis and treatment across the NHS is becoming increasingly frequent.

Last month, the UK government announced £21 million would be invested in AI developments across the NHS.

The funding, which will be made fully available by the end of 2023, will allow NHS Trusts to accelerate the deployment of the most promising AI tools across hospitals, to help treat patients this coming winter.

The integration of new technology will help diagnose patients more quickly for conditions such as cancers, strokes, and heart conditions, by utilising AI imaging and decision support tools.

So far, Sunak's government has supported a fairly tolerant approach to the development of artificial intelligence.

In March, they released a White Paper outlining its stance on the technology. It said that rather than enacting legislation it was preparing to require companies to abide by five "principles" when developing AI.

Some experts have argued that the regulations announced at last week's summit won't go far enough.

In a conversation with Sunak following the conference, tech billionaire Elon Musk quipped jokingly that "it (the declaration) will be annoying, that's true", but said he supported the plan.