The Prime Minister has pledged £100 million initial funding for a taskforce to build ‘safe and reliable’ artificial intelligence foundation models.

Modelled on the COVID-19 Vaccines Taskforce, this will look to develop AI across the UK economy.

Foundation models – including large language models like ChatGPT and Google Bard – are a category of AI systems trained on huge volumes of data such as text, images, video or audio to gain broad and sophisticated capabilities across many tasks.

​​In areas like healthcare, this type of AI has enormous potential to speed up diagnoses, drug discovery and development. In education it could transform teachers’ day-to-day work, freeing up their time to focus on delivering excellent teaching.

Research suggests the technology could raise global GDP by 7% over a decade. To support businesses and public trust in these systems and drive their adoption, the Taskforce will work with the sector towards developing the safety and reliability of foundation models, both at a scientific and commercial level.

The funding will be invested by the Foundation Model Taskforce in foundation model infrastructure and public service procurement. The first pilots targeting public services are expected to launch in the next six months.

However Harry Keen, co-founder and CEO of London-based generative AI startup Hazy, said £100m was a “small ticket” for such a huge area of technology.

“We have the right ingredients, academic research institutions to push the technology further, a broad swathe of other financial backers to help fund it and a healthy economy of businesses and consumers that can use the products built on this tech,” he said.

“However, £100m is a small ticket and doesn’t stack up to becoming a tech ‘superpower’. China and the US are investing at least 100 times that amount – even if some of the £900m set for compute resources does get funnelled into generative AI too, this will not suffice. 

“In the US alone, equivalent amounts are being invested into single companies in this space, so it’s difficult to see what tangible impact this money will have.”

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Ritam Gandhi, director and founder of London-based digital product agency Studio Graphene, said the taskforce announcement is “an encouraging development for British tech”. 

He added: “Beyond the transformative impact that the new generation of AI platforms like ChatGPT might have on how any number of businesses operate, AI represents an opportunity to encourage growth and build momentum for the UK tech sector, and hopefully, this initiative will make that possible.

“Cutting-edge AIs can enhance efficiency and create value for businesses, but their vast potential might not ring true for many UK consumers, whose own experiences of AI chatbots when interacting with brands and banks were not so positive.”

PM Rishi Sunak said “by investing in emerging technologies through our new expert taskforce, we can continue to lead the way in developing safe and trustworthy AI as part of shaping a more innovative UK economy”.

Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan added: “Developed responsibly, cutting-edge AI can have a transformative impact in nearly every industry.

“The greatest capability we can develop is in the safety and reliability of such systems. This will ensure that the public and business have the trust they need to confidently adopt this technology and fully realise its benefits. That is exactly what this taskforce will prioritise.”

The taskforce will be led by a chair who will be announced later in the summer. Matt Clifford, chair of the Advanced Research and Innovation Agency, will advise the Prime Minister and Technology Secretary on the development of the taskforce while the appointment is ongoing.

Doug Gurr, chair of The Alan Turing Institute, said: “We congratulate the government on this exciting investment which will keep the UK at the cutting edge of this transformative technology and look forward to continuing to work with all the relevant partners to help develop breakthrough AI applications in a safe, reliable, trustworthy and ethical way.”

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