April 25, 2018 / 11:20 PM / 25 days ago

Britain pumps cash into artificial intelligence before Brexit

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain announced on Thursday a 1 billion pound ($1.4 billion) joint investment in the artificial intelligence (AI) industry to capitalize on what the government sees as a competitive advantage in the sector as it prepares for life after Brexit.

The deal is the latest in a series of targeted public-private investment pacts in the government’s industrial strategy that aims to modernize Britain’s economy and address decades of regional and industrial decline.

“It’s evident that Britain is a place that people want to come to for AI,” business minister Greg Clark told Reuters during a visit to a facility in London that nurtures early-stage tech businesses from across the world.

“We have a position of strength that we want to capitalize on because if we don’t build on it the other countries around the world would steal a march.”

Governments worldwide are plowing cash AI to keep up with international rivals and seeking to harness its power to transform industries from transport to agriculture.

The European Union said on Wednesday it would boost AI investment by about 70 percent to 1.5 billion euros ($1.8 billion) by 2020 to catch up with Asia and the United States, which are each investing at least three times more than Europe.

Despite offering less investment, ministers said Britain had advantages because it had established research capabilities, boasted a global financial center in London and hosted the headquarters of many major firms.

“The cross-fertilisation that is at the core of the impact of artificial intelligence can happen here more easily than elsewhere,” digital, culture, media and sport minister Matt Hancock told Reuters.

The government said the AI industry could generate 232 billion pounds for the British economy by 2030.

Britain’s industrial strategy is a flagship project for Prime Minister Theresa May, but critics say it lacks detail and any measurable progress since it was launched two years ago.

The strategy has focused on areas such as high-tech manufacturing, AI, cars and battery technology to help rebalance a services-based economy with declining traditional industries.

The investment announced on Thursday includes nearly 300 million pounds of private investment in projects such as a University of Cambridge AI supercomputer, and cash spent on European bases in Britain for Japanese and Canadian venture capital firms.

Those funds will be matched by more than 300 million pounds of public funding, on top of an existing 400 million pound budget. The funds will be spent on teacher training, research and developing regional technology hubs to explore how AI can be used in industries such as law and insurance.

A Center for Data Ethics and Innovation, look at ensuring the safe development of data driven technologies and ways to protect consumers, will also be set up.

Reporting by William James

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