UK Gov Puts £50m into AI Fellowships, Seeks 25% Boost to Productivity

The UK Government has boosted its support for AI’s role in the economy with a new £50m ($64m) fellowship fund to help attract the world’s top machine learning researchers to the country. This is part of a wider effort by Government to deliver what it believes could be an economic improvement in productivity of 25% by 2035.

The move is part of this week’s Budget and builds on the AI Sector Deal, which is part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy initiative. In short, politicians and civil servants have decided that the field of AI technology is not just important as a subset of the wider economy, but potentially is going to be the backbone of the economy’s future growth.

While the fund will be of help, which it will run via the UK’s AI centre of excellence, the Alan Turing Institute, and its own Office for AI, probably the bigger issue is the focus on productivity, i.e. the ability of the economy to produce improving outputs relative to the level of inputs, e.g. time spent working and investment in resources.

It’s a major issue in the West, with productivity having languished for many years. One reason for weak growth in productivity has been the over-reliance on manual labour for lower value work rather than investing in technology. This can refer to everything from hiring thousands of low paid people to pick fruit or work in warehouses, to large numbers of paralegals and associates doing routine doc review work in law firms.

This matters because the end result of low productivity is a more inefficient economy and wasted human resources that could deliver more value if applied elsewhere.

I.e. if X% of the ‘legal workforce‘, if we can call it that, is engaged in lower impact labour then this affects what the legal sector as a whole can deliver to the economy. That in turn slows down businesses and arguably has a negative social impact in terms of reduced access to justice.

One could say that low productivity throttles the potential for the legal sector to deliver greater value to the economy. And, although many lawyers are still sceptical, the reality is that not automating those parts of their business that can be automated is hurting their law firms in the longer term, even if today’s partner profit figures may disguise that.

The fact that the Government is actively embracing a future where productivity is boosted by automated cognitive technology is therefore an important move.

It also is in step with a wider effort by the Ministry of Justice and legal bodies in the UK to support the use of automation and AI technology, with the Law Society and SRA launching multiple initiatives to support its use in the legal sector.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright, said: ‘Through our modern Industrial Strategy we’re joining with industry to invest close to £1 billion in AI, to position the UK as one of the best places in the world to develop and use this exciting new technology. This investment will help us to recruit and retain the best talent in AI and ensure that we are we are leading the way on research and development in the sector.’

Adrian Smith, Director of The Alan Turing Institute, added: ‘In order to realise the significant opportunities for innovation and growth offered by the data and artificial intelligence revolution, it is essential that we nurture and grow the very best academic talent and expertise.’

Also announced as part of the latest UK Budget is a new review run between the Office for AI and Government Digital Service on how the Government can use AI in new ways to drive improvements in public services. And this certainly would apply to the public-facing aspects of the legal sector, which remains a substantial part of all legal activity.

The Government added that the first fellows are expected to be place by Autumn 2019.