The future of AI in the UK is looking brighter following the recent budget announcements.
For years, computing capacity for AI research has been a challenge in the UK. In fact, in 2022, the Alan Turing Institute and Technopolis highlighted several things about the status of compute capacity in the UK: that there was no Tier 1 national compute facility for AI researchers, limiting the use of larger workloads. Tier 2 facilities were either at maximum capacity or difficult to access, and capability was limited in Tier 3 resources. Other countries, including the US, Japan, and those in the EU, had pre-exascale and exascale facilities that surpassed the UK's resources.
Yesterday, the government announced £900 million to address this gap, with plans to build an exascale supercomputer and establish a new AI research resource. Although it's unclear what the research resource will be, this investment is a positive step forward. However, there are challenges ahead, such as finding the skilled talent needed to procure the system, implement the plan, and then run and support the supercomputer and its users.
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Time is also a crucial factor in the fast-paced field of AI; the supercomputer must be built quickly to allow the UK research and development community to benefit promptly.
Large language models
Another positive announcement is the government's plan to establish a task force to advance UK sovereign capability in foundation models, including large language models (LLMs). This is a great idea that would make new and large models more freely accessible to different researchers here in the UK, but there is a lot to catch up with in the market, given that there are already LLMs available and some are widely adopted. Much depends on the objectives of this plan but adoption is a critical success factor in the world of technology. The UK government's foundation models must surpass others in terms what they offer or ease of access and more, to ensure they are adopted, maintained and developed in the future.
In addition to the investment in technology, the creation of enterprise zones should help attract talent and investment, improve skills and infrastructure that could filter through to more AI-led innovation and the commercialisation of new products. Other measures in the budget included a £1 million annual prize for top AI research for 10 years to encourage more innovation.
Overall, these are positive developments for AI in the UK, but delivery and outcomes will be the ultimate test of success.
About the Author
Sarah Burnett FBCS is an internationally recognised industry analyst and author in the field of intelligent automation and the future of work. Her first book, published by BCS, The Autonomous Enterprise – Powered by AI, draws on her years of experience in intelligent automation, new research and an impressive range of case studies to illustrate the concept of the autonomous enterprise.
Sarah holds a number of roles including Chief Technology Evangelist at KYP.ai, founding partner and board advisor at Emergence Partners, and a member of the industrial advisory board at the Open University School of Computing. She chaired BCSWomen for four years. She also founded AI Accelerator; an internationally recognised programme focused on increasing diversity in the AI industry.