Featured Article : The UK’s New AI Taskforce

3rd May 2023

In this article, we look at the reasons for the government’s formation of the Foundation Model Taskforce, and how the DeepMind and Google Brain tie-up could solve some big issues for Alphabet in the AI world.

£100 Million Investment In Taskforce Start-Up

The UK government has announced that it will be investing £100 million in initial start-up funding for a ‘taskforce’ which will be responsible for accelerating the UK’s capability in rapidly emerging types of artificial intelligence. The investment will be on top of a £900 million investment into the ‘Budget for Compute’ technology for a new ‘exascale’ supercomputer and a dedicated AI Research Resource to equip the UK with the processing power it needs to support the next generation of AI innovation.

Modelled On The COVID Vaccines Taskforce

The ‘Foundation Model Taskforce’ made up of experts and reporting to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), will be modelled on the success of the COVID-19 Vaccines Taskforce. It will be given the job of developing the safe and reliable use of artificial intelligence (AI) across the economy with the aim of ensuring the UK is globally competitive in this strategic technology and to ensure the UK is “at the forefront of this technology.”

Powerful Potential

Where AI is concerned, the government says that developments like ChatGPT and the announcement of Google Bard have shown the powerful potential for technologies based upon foundation models, including large language models. The government says the new Taskforce will, therefore, be empowered to “advance UK sovereign capability in foundation models” including large language models and also provide direct advice to UK ministers.

AI To Increase GDP

With Foundational AI technology predicted to increase global GDP by 7 per cent over a decade, plus research showing that broad adoption of these systems could even triple national productivity growth rates, it’s no surprise that the government is looking at the economic potential of AI to contribute billions of pounds to UK GDP.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “Harnessing the potential of AI provides enormous opportunities to grow our economy, create better-paid jobs, and build a better future through advances in healthcare and security.”

Prime Minister Sunak also stressed that “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.”

What Will It Do?

One of the first priorities for the Taskforce will be to apply its expertise and understanding of the AI sector to present a clear mission to advance the UK’s AI capability and prioritise options, action, and investment.

Broadly speaking (since it’s still in the planning stage), the Taskforce will focus on opportunities to establish the UK as a world leader in foundation models and their applications across the economy and, the government says, will act as a global standard-bearer for AI safety.

First Pilot Next Month

The initial funding will be invested in foundation model infrastructure and public service procurement, to create opportunities for domestic innovation, and the first pilots targeting public services are expected to launch in the next six months.

The government says that the taskforce will also play a crucial role in ensuring the major, multi-year funding announced at the Budget for compute is strategically invested to prioritise and strengthen the UK’s capability in foundation models.

Who’s In The Taskforce?

The Taskforce will be led by an expert Chair (yet to be announced) while Matt Clifford (Chair of the Advanced Research and Innovation Agency) will advise the Prime Minister and the Technology Secretary on the development of the Taskforce while the appointment is ongoing.

UK-based DeepMind Merges With Alphabet and Google Brain

In a separate but promising development in the AI world, Alphabet (Google’s parent) is merging Google Brain (part of the research division) and UK-based DeepMind into a single, unified AI research unit called “Google DeepMind.”

DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis said of the development: “Through Google DeepMind, we are bringing together our world-class talent in AI with the computing power, infrastructure, and resources to create the next generation of AI breakthroughs and products across Google and Alphabet, and to do this in a bold and responsible way.”

End Rivalry and Help Compete

It is thought that the move will not only end a long-running internal rivalry between the London and Silicon Valley-based groups but will also help Google to catch up on lost ground in generative AI against Microsoft and OpenAI. For example, it was reported that the release of ChatGPT last November led Google’s management to issue a “code red” about the tech giant’s search engine business.

The merging will also be a way for Google to finally complete its nine-year assimilation of DeepMind into its operations.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Following the remarkable success of ChatGPT, the UK government has realised the enormous potential for (generative) AI to boost GDP and the economy so it has invested in setting up a Taskforce to help it take full advantage of AI-based opportunities. As highlighted by the UK PM, if the Taskforce can help to harness AI opportunities in the UK, it could be good news for the economy, e.g. through the creation of better-paid jobs, advances in healthcare and security, plus creating a more innovative UK economy. That said, the automation that expanded use of AI will bring could result in many jobs being lost before people have had the chance to retrain to take up any of the predicted new types of jobs that AI could deliver.

DeepMind is an example of a UK-based company that has made great advances in computational biology and reinforcement learning, however the true value of the synergies between this and Google Brain appears, until now, to have been hampered by internal rivalries. The shake-up and merging of Alphabet, Google Brain and DeepMind was in part a response to being caught off-guard by ChatGPT and could now help Alphabet (Google) to maximise focus and value, claw back some lost ground, and establish itself as a major competitor in the rapidly advancing world of generative AI.