Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Secretary of State Jeremy Wright speaking at CogX during London Tech Week
Jeremy Wright yesterday outlined the UK's commitment to developing AI that benefits the economy and society.
It is a real pleasure to be here at CoGx and of course at London Tech Week.
This important festival of technology provides an ideal moment to celebrate the technology and the ingenuity of this city and this country.
And to take stock of the incredible progress we’ve made.
We are a nation with a rich history of innovation - from Ada Lovelace to Sir Tim Berners Lee to Sophie Wilson.
The UK is Europe’s leading tech hub and we generate more billion dollar tech businesses than any other country on the continent.
Our inward AI investment stood at over a billion pounds last year, more than Germany, France, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland combined.
Amazon, Apple, Google, IBM and many more major companies have bases in the UK or will soon be setting up here.
And they thrive alongside a network of emerging start ups and scale ups.
But we cannot see innovation as solely the preserve of private companies.
AI-powered technology has beaten Grand Masters at the game Go and enabled driverless cars to steer through our streets.
And yet it also holds the potential to solve some of the great public sector challenges.
And that is what I wanted to talk about today.
How Governments can make the most of exciting new technologies, like AI, in a way that creates a stronger relationship between citizens and the Governments that represents them.
And how AI has the power to deliver smarter and more targeted public services and address some of the major social issues that face us all.
As a nation, we have been pioneers for digital Government.
The first stage of this work was putting our government services online through our single gov.uk portal, an approach that has been replicated all across the world.
This has not only saved billions for taxpayers in the UK but has given users a more positive experience of their interactions with Government.
You can do anything on gov.uk, from getting a divorce to finding out how to import a ferret. Although I don’t think anyone has tried both on the same day..
Automation and AI presents a huge opportunity to make online services more effective and more efficient.
Used properly, they mean more accurate predictions, improved accuracy and smarter decision making.
And for people working in the public sector it will free up time to spend on thinking of more innovative ways to improve services.
UK government websites lead the world in user-centric design, but there are still processes that can be transformed – everything from tax returns to planning applications – using intelligent automation and machine learning.
And we are investing money and resources into making this a reality.
Last year, the Prime Minister announced plans to expand the use of AI in our health sector.
Using the latest machine learning technology to equip doctors with the most advanced AI technologies, so they can diagnose life-threatening diseases earlier and more effectively.
And in my previous role as Attorney General, I saw how the use of AI made it easier for the legal sector to sift through evidence and process contracts.
We want to maintain this momentum encourage even more of this work throughout the public sector.
So today we are publishing a new guide to help leaders across the civil service understand how AI can be used to solve problems within departments.
It is aimed at those working in the public sector, although it draws on best practice from a variety of different areas of our economy.
And we have worked with the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institute for artificial intelligence, to produce additional guidance on AI ethics and safety in a public sector context.
We are making a real effort, all across Government, to support the early adoption of new technologies.
And I will keep challenging my colleagues across Government to see how they can go further and faster in supporting new technologies.
Whether that is adopting AI to deliver public services, using government buildings to support the deployment of 5G, or opening up data.
Because Governments are in a privileged position in that they have large amounts of data at their disposal.
And as this data becomes more and more sophisticated, the opportunities for the public sector are growing exponentially.
For example, the UK’s Border Force has been using sophisticated analytics to use flight information to assess the risk of modern slavery.
And we need to make the most of opportunities like these.
We have seen some real benefits from sharing between different public services in the UK.
For example, one fire service has been using data on food hygiene to predict the likelihood of fire and proactively visit those at risk.
They knew that premises with low food hygiene ratings have a strong correlation with a poor fire safety record and saw the potential of cross-cutting data, as many organisations are doing across our public services.
And to build on this work, today DCMS is launching the first part of a public consultation on a National Data Strategy, together with a call for evidence.
This will provide impetus to the wide range of data-led work across Government, culminating with an action plan for how Government, business, academia and the wider public sector can work in partnership.
It will look to engage with all parts of our society and I hope that you will join the conversation to help us get this right.
Because the value of Government data can reach far beyond the public sector, and so we want to open it up to others who want to use it in a safe and ethical way.
And we have seen some fantastic alternative uses from Government data sharing – just look at the Environment Agency’s LiDAR data.
These 3D maps of landscapes are critical in modelling flood risk, but have also been used by architects and city planners – they can even be imported into Minecraft.
Data can often yield positive outcomes that we might not always be able to predict when we choose to open it up.
So this week I wrote to DCMS’s Arms-Length Bodies to urge them to support our firm commitment to making data and information accessible to the public, wherever possible.
We want to make it even easier to unlock the value of data across the economy by reducing the friction costs of data sharing.
Organisations looking to access or share data can currently face a range of barriers, from trust and cultural concerns to practical and legal obstacles.
So the Office for AI – a joint unit between my own Department and the Business Department – along with Innovate UK, has partnered with the Open Data Institute.
They are exploring a type of data sharing framework called a data trust - a legal structure that provides independent stewardship of data.
The ODI worked with three pilot projects, focused on diverse social challenges, each examining whether a data trust could increase access to data while retaining trust.
The work found a huge demand from private, public and third sector organisations to explore data trusts and other data stewardship models.
Because data is the fuel that powers our digital economy.
And Governments that promote the safe, appropriate and ethical sharing of valuable data can further stimulate the market for those products and applications that can make the world a better place.
Even beyond data, Governments and public services have so many levers that they can use to create the right environment for new technologies to flourish.
Only this week, the Prime Minister announced that we will invest upto 13.5 million pounds in new conversion courses to grow specialist AI and data skills.
This scheme will provide another 2,500 places at universities throughout England, and will sponsor up to 1,000 of those places to improve diversity and representation in the future AI workforce.
And we will invite industry to match funding to help build and support these courses.
Governments can also have huge influence through their procurement practices - putting our money where our mouth is and thinking carefully about what we buy and who we buy it from.
Now I know that this is not perhaps the most exciting topic, but it is a crucial one, and the benefits here can be immense.
If we get this right we can make sure that our public procurement encourages innovation in the AI sector, and we are working with the World Economic Forum and its Centre for the fourth Industrial Revolution on how we can drive this change.
And this also provides an opportunity for our innovative tech-driven organisations to access the public service market, so we can use Government’s purchasing power to benefit society.
So we will also be publishing complementary guidance to help them understand how to navigate procurement processes.
I would encourage all socially minded tech firms to get involved in this work, as well as to apply for TechNation’s new Applied AI 1.0 programme, which opens today.
This will support tech founders who have a clear vision for how their products solve real world problems, and who are applying artificial intelligence in practical areas to create a positive social impact.
Applicants for the six-month programme will be selected by a judging panel made up of leading AI experts, with successful entries starting the programme in September.
Regulation is also a crucial part of the picture. Digital technologies cannot thrive when they are subject to regulation developed in an analogue age.
And so we are working with our regulators to make sure we have regulatory systems in place that reflect the fast-paced nature of new technologies.
The Financial Conduct Authority’s Green Tech Fintech Challenge is a strong example of that.
It supports a number of firms, including many of our dynamic start-ups, in developing products and services to help our transition towards a greener economy.
The challenge provides guidance and live market testing, which can be essential in helping a product overcome the hurdles faced by businesses that want to try something different for the greater good.
And that is an approach that has been emulated worldwide.
More than twenty countries have adopted ‘sandbox’ schemes that we pioneered in the UK to foster the development of innovation.
This work is bearing fruit and the OECD has given the UK its highest overall score for the quality of our regulatory practices.
I want the UK to be a global leader in encouraging this transformative technology and its socially responsible use.
Because Governments must be leading, not following, the exceptional change we are seeing.
And the best way to do that is through the public services that people use every day.
Public services are at their heart all about improving the lives of citizens.
And the AI revolution has given Governments a real opportunity to do this more efficiently and more effectively.
But no Government can do it alone, and nor would we want to.
We will need the talent and enterprise of our businesses and civil society.
Only then can we use AI’s transforming power to solve problems, support enterprise and enhance freedom and opportunity across the world.
Because the prize on offer is worth fighting for. A better economy, and a better society too.
Thank you very much.
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