UK Gov Launches £20m Fund to Help Grow Legal AI Applications

The UK Government has launched a £20m ($27m) fund to help develop AI and data analysis technology in the legal, accounting and insurance sectors as part of a wider effort to ensure the nation’s key service sectors stay ahead of the technology curve.

£16m of that money will be handed out to R&D projects that law firms and legal tech companies can apply for to help develop new applications for machine learning and data-crunching systems.

Recently the Government stated that Artificial intelligence is one of the four ‘Grand Challenges’ and part of its formal Industrial Strategy. The UK leadership has said that AI is a key global trend that, if the UK can exploit, will allow the country to improve people’s lives and the country’s productivity.

Artificial Lawyer asked Stephen Browning, Interim Challenge Director, Next Generation Services at the Government-backed group, Innovate UK, to explain what is going to happen and why?

– How will the money be used/paid out? 

We are going to run grant funding competitions in two principle areas. Firstly, a £4m inter-disciplinary Research Programme, to fund applied research into the socio-technical challenges that adopting this technology in Accountancy, Insurance and Legal services pose, and to come up with solutions that business can adopt. This research will require the involvement of business in order to ensure it is focussed on genuine needs and challenges. We expect that it will explore both technical challenges but also more behavioural challenges around ethics, bias and transparency and look at how we might deal with human concepts like “justice” and “reasonableness” in an AI supported system.

The second area is a £16m programme supporting R&D in businesses. Here we are looking for large projects of £4m total cost and 2.5 years duration, that address sector wide issues and develop the transformative approaches that will drive these three sectors. These projects should be run by consortia that include all relevant parties such as tech suppliers, professional services firms, regulators and academics.

We’re also looking to fund a number of smaller projects with up to £400k project costs that are addressing more specific developments either within a single business or a small consortia, for example developing a new AI driven service offering in the legal services sector.

For both types of projects we expect the applicants to have a clear proposal of what they are trying to achieve and why it will be transformative.

– Why is the Government focusing on law, accounting and insurance? How will this help the UK economy?

Professional Business Services and Financial Services are key sectors for the UK economy, both in terms of their direct contribution to GDP but also in terms of the indirect effect they have by supporting businesses. The UK also enjoys a leading position in these sectors on the global stage. However, with the emergence of AI and particularly various forms of machine learning, coupled with the increasing availability, quantity and use of data, there is a clear threat of new technology disrupting the landscape. We want to help the UK to maintain its position and for UK businesses to establish leadership in these new technologies.

The challenge is funded by the government through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Investing in the UK’s world-leading research and the most innovative businesses, the fund seeks to take on the biggest industrial and societal challenges of our time.

– How important is AI to the legal sector in your view? 

Our belief is that AI has the potential to be hugely transformative across the entire economy. That is why the government has chosen AI and Data as one of its Grand Challenges within the industrial strategy. This potential is equally applicable to knowledge and people based industries like the legal sector; in fact it could be argued that since these sectors have seen little disruption from previous industrial revolutions that it’s even more important for these sectors to prepare themselves and become involved in the development of the revolution that AI will likely bring.

– Will law firms be able to seek this funding, or just legal tech companies? 

For any technology to be successful, it is important to ensure that it meets the needs of the intended users. We want to make sure that law firms have the opportunity to participate, shape and ultimately benefit from the developments we support through this programme. So yes, we very much want law firms to get involved as well as technology suppliers and other relevant stakeholders in the legal services ecosystem.

– Will this now be an ongoing project that grows year by year? 

This is a “pioneer” programme. We will evaluate the programme as it progresses to see whether there is both an appetite and a need to expand in the future. A key element of that will be the willingness of the sector to engage with the programme and to develop impactful solutions and approaches.

For more information please see here or, see the briefing events below:

A programme of briefing events are being hosted around the UK in June. Please follow the links below to register your interest:

·      London 5th June

·      Manchester 11th June

·      Cardiff  19th June

·      Edinburgh 21st June

·      Belfast 26th June

[ This sounds like a great initiative, and while £20m may seem like a relatively small amount of funding for such a major goal, given that many of the leading legal AI companies of today started off in life with just a small fraction of this kind of money then we could perhaps see some very important applications coming from this initiative. It’s also great to see the Government putting up funding for legal AI (as well as for other professional services areas) – thanks! It’s appreciated. ]