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Budget 2017: Funding for AI, 5G and digital skills

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More funding for research into 5G technology was promised

Chancellor Philip Hammond said he wanted to secure Britain’s position as a world leader in technology and innovation as he delivered his Budget.

It included more money for artificial intelligence and the development of 5G networks.

There will also be funding to put driverless cars on UK roads by 2021.

The chancellor also pledged to boost digital skills, including tripling the number of trained computer science teachers to 12,000.

“A new tech business is founded in Britain every hour, and I want that to be every half hour,” said Mr Hammond.

Tech spending highlights

  • £75m for artificial intelligence
  • regulatory changes for on-road driverless car testing
  • £400m for electric car charge points
  • £100m to boost clean car purchases
  • £160m for 5G mobile networks
  • £100m for an additional 8,000 fully qualified computer science teachers supported by a new National Centre for Computing
  • a retraining partnership with the TUC and the CBI to boost digital skills in the workforce
  • £76m to boost digital and construction skills

Although the chancellor described the UK as a “world leader” in cutting-edge technology, there is evidence it is losing its place on the world stage.

A new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report suggests the UK is in decline, both in terms of top-cited scientific research and artificial intelligence inventions.

According to the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard, the UK accounted for 1.9% of AI-related patent applications from 2010 to 2015.

The research suggests 70% of AI technological development is happening in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China.

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Philip Hammond acknowledged that the technological revolution would bring big societal changes

The AI funding announced by the Treasury will support start-ups and raise the number of new PhD students in the field to 200 each year.

It is also thought some of the money will go towards an advisory body to remove barriers to AI development.

Darren Roos, president of the cloud division of technology company SAP, welcomed the funding announcement but questioned whether it would be enough.

“Let’s be clear, this pledge from the government today is a step in the right direction but the UK is in a global race when it comes to the adoption of AI technology, and it cannot afford to lose.

“While today’s pledge is an excellent start, other countries are investing far more in AI.”

The need to increase digital skills in the UK, both in schools and among the existing workforce, is seen by many as a key strategy for the government.

It has faced criticism recently as it was revealed that most UK secondary schools did not offer a GCSE in computer science.

“We’re delighted to see the emphasis on digital skills in the Budget and welcome the chancellor’s commitment to ensuring that young people receive the investment needed to thrive in the jobs of the future,” said Gavin Patterson, chief executive of BT, which runs a series of digital skills initiatives.

“As a country, we need to build on our strengths as a tech leader and ensure that we don’t just cope with the challenges ahead but that we inspire, lead and shape the future,” he said.

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