UK Government a front-runner in Artificial Intelligence investments

08 November 2019 Consultancy.uk

The UK Government is one of Europe’s leaders when it comes to investment in Artificial Intelligence (AI), a new study has found. According to the report from Accenture, one-fifth of UK Government organisations are investing more than £40 million in AI annually.

Last year, the UK Government promised an injection of £2.3 billion in private investment to boost AI talent, including the creation of over 1,600 jobs, and a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. According to the Government, the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation will advise rules changes that may be needed for the rapidly changing sector, as well as set non-legislatory standards, including guidelines around ethical development of algorithmic AI architecture.

The announcement was the latest in a number of major initiatives which have seen the Government place AI as a leading investment priority. One of the chief hopes of this tact is that by placing the UK at the forefront of the global technology market, the nation’s economy can be shielded from the strains put on it by Brexit. Further confirming this, consulting firm Accenture has released a new study, finding that the UK Government is now a European front-runner in terms of AI investment.

Transforming Public Service with AI

According to the study – which surveyed 300 government executives and IT decision-makers in Finland, France, Germany, Norway and the UK – the UK is significantly ahead on current and anticipated AI spending. Around 20% of UK respondents stated their organisation was investing more than £40 million in AI annually, while a further 47% said their organisation is investing between £12 million and £40 million.

This represented the highest figures reported among the five countries surveyed. In contrast, respondents from Norway cited the lowest levels of investment in AI, with just 22% saying that they were investing between £12 million and £40 million annually.

Understandably, then, the UK was among the most optimistic about the potential of AI, alongside Finland. Both appear most hopeful about the technology they are willing to sink so much capital into, with those respondents reporting a higher perceived level of impact from AI, as well as an intent to scale more use cases in the next year compared to other countries. However, Finland lags behind other countries in terms of a self-assessed ability to scale, on average trailing 19% behind other countries in terms of reporting a strong/very strong ability.

In terms of what the UK is already using AI to enhance, Accenture pointed toward the infrastructure in place for paying out pensions. The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) makes pension and welfare payments to 20 million people each year. Faced with a recent surge in new pension applications, the department amassed a gigantic backlog of 30,000 unprocessed claims. Implementing this with human labour would have taken many months, but instead the DWP partnered with AI firm UiPath to rent 12 robots, clearing the backlog and dishing out pensions in just two weeks.

Barriers

Mark Jennings, who leads Accenture’s Health & Public Service offering in Europe, commented, “The findings of our research indicate a healthy appetite and investment in AI technologies. In fact, the Government has recently announced considerable investment in education and skills for AI, which is a very welcome move... Thanks to increased government funding for AI projects, a strong ability to scale AI investments, and a skilled workforce, the UK will continue to be a world-leader in AI from which our economy will reap benefits in the coming years.”

However, regardless of the enthusiasm for AI investment, notable hurdles still stand between the Government and the realisation of the technology’s full potential. Nearly six in seven (83%) cited difficulties in procuring the right AI building blocks, with security concerns (52%) noted as a top barrier to achieving scale. Seventy-eight percent of respondents also cited a medium to very high risk of AI use cases being duplicated within their organisation or within lower levels of government due to a lack of internal collaboration and leadership oversight.

Jennings, “In terms of practical deployment today, intent shouldn’t be misconstrued for ability and change is likely to happen at a slower pace than the government anticipates. A clearer understanding of the potential of AI and a readiness to think more holistically about outcomes will empower public sector leaders to deliver successful AI deployments and integrate the technology into their operations. To deliver success, an organisation-wide approach must be taken to AI projects, with a focus on ensuring data integrity, practical considerations and employee support.”


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