“Britain’s research strengths, bolstered by a world-leading computer science research ecosystem, have made it a crucible for AI development”
Britain’s artificial intelligence (AI) heritage is deeply rooted. Since mathematician Alan Turing first considered the question “can machines think?” in his seminal 1950 paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, the country has pioneered the use of advanced data analytics and AI across aN array of sectors, from retail to drug development.
Indeed, with Turing in mind, it was a “Neural Turing Machine” that helped power DeepMind Technologies, the British AI company, to its ground-breaking AI win over Go world champion Lee Sedol in 2016; an epoch-defining step-change in AI.
(DeepMind, bought by Alphabet in 2014, has since developed an AI-powered system to autonomously manage cooling and energy efficiency of Google’s data centres. Its sophisticated natural language recognition techniques, meanwhile, now power Google Assistant – through which DeepMind’s technology reaches over 500 million people.)
AI in Britain: Being Supported
This is not an anomaly: Britain’s research strengths in sophisticated data analytics and artificial intelligence, bolstered by a world-leading computer science research ecosystem, have made it a crucible for AI development. the government is committed to ensuring that this fertile climate continues to go from strength-to-strength: AI has been included as one of four “Grand Challenges” and backed by significant funding.
The commercial opportunities are already significant for British trading partners. As Atos’s Shane Rigby puts it: “In terms of the key (AI) driving segments in the UK, they are: aerospace and defence, manufacturing, automotive and healthcare.”
“There are a huge number of very intuitive new applications being developed in physics, chemistry, genomics and astronomy, as well as applied areas such as fluid dynamics and cognitive surveillance.”
AI Sector Deal: No Resting on Laurels
Britain has already been ranked #1 in the world for AI readiness, according to a report by Oxford Insights.
And the Government’s recently announced AI Sector Deal, which includes the establishment of a Government Office for AI, provides a clear blueprint for how the UK can continue to develop its global leadership in innovative, responsible and ethical AI.
Britain has long had a reputation for its business-friendly, robust and forward-leaning regulatory climate. Nowhere is this more apparent than in AI and data analytics.
As Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy puts it: “Ensuring the UK has the right digital infrastructure – both physical and, crucially, data infrastructure – is critical to meeting our ambition of leading the world in AI.”
“That is why, as part of our Industrial Strategy, we are investing over £1 billion to create a country with world class digital capabilities: from 5G mobile networks to full-fibre broadband.”
He adds: “Equally important is the availability of data, which is required on a vast scale to train machine learning systems. The government and public bodies are already leading the way in making public datasets open and available.”
“But there remain significant challenges to sharing private sector datasets. Through this Sector Deal, we will tackle both the practical and cultural barriers to sharing both publicly and privately held data.”
What Are Britain’s AI Companies Doing?
According to UK Government data, there are currently more than 800 cyber security businesses headquartered in the UK: many are using AI to secure their customers data, identifying anomalous behaviour in network traffic and blocking lateral movement.
Perhaps the best known is Darktrace, a “unicorn” founded in 2013 by mathematicians from the University of Cambridge and government cyber intelligence experts. Today, Darktrace is recognised as one of the world’s leading AI company for cybersecurity and has brought in investors like KKR, Talis Capital, Summit Partners, Samsung Ventures and Invoke Capital. Its customers include the NHS and Europe’s largest listed property development company, British Land.
As Darktrace CEO Nicole Eagan puts it: “Artificial intelligence is a fundamental enabler of cyber security, and Darktrace is at the forefront of that shift, with four years of experience deploying machine learning into all types of enterprises and industrial systems.”
It is not just cybersecurity immune systems that AI can benefit, of course. Britain’s global reputation for innovative medical technology is underpinned by the country’s AI leadership.
London’s BenevolentAI is among the companies leading the world in AI-powered medical innovation. Founded in 2013, BenevolentAI employs 165 people in London, Cambridge and New York, including data scientists, computer scientists, mathematicians and drug development R&D scientists. They combine the power of computational medicine and advanced AI with the principles of open systems and cloud computing to transform the way medicines are designed, developed, tested and brought to market.
This is crucial – and not just for public health. The drug development process is a notoriously time and capital-intensive one. The process from identifying a new molecule to it getting to market as an approved drug has typically previously taken between 15 and 20 years, with success rates to develop a new drug around five percent — and costing up to £1.5 billion per new medicine. Dramatically improving the efficiency of this process through AI will prove transformative for the industry. (BenchSci, a platform that transforms published data into experiment-specific recommendations, has identified 76 startups using AI in drug discovery).
As BenevolentAI puts it: “A new research paper is published every 30 seconds yet scientists currently only use a fraction of the knowledge available to understand the cause of disease and propose new treatments. Our platform ingests, ‘reads’ and contextualises vast quantities of information drawn from written documents, databases and experimental results. It is able to make infinitely more deductions and inferences across these disparate, complex data sources, identifying and creating relationships, trends and patterns, that would be impossible for a human being to make alone.”
Cybersecurity and drug development are just two sectors in which Britain is blazing a trail in the use of AI. There are many others. If your industry vertical wants to understand how AI can be put to work to boost commercial performance, optimise trading relationships or get a competitive edge, Britain’s research rigour, regulatory climate and world-beating talent base show that it should be the very first port of call.
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