New plans for a UK National AI Strategy

Artificial Intelligence may have fallen victim to the hype machine in recent years, but the UK government has now recognised that this is no longer the dress rehearsal.


AI technology is rapidly evolving and the UK government has taken heed of the AI Council’s recommendation that there is an urgent need to implement a national strategy to ensure the UK can leverage the maximum benefits from its existing position of strength in the field.

The Global AI Index,[1] reportedly the first index to benchmark nations on their level of investment, innovation and implementation of AI, currently ranks the UK in third place overall. However, it reflects in its rankings the UK’s relative weaknesses in implementing its excellent research and talent to develop the technology, possibly as a result of relatively unclear government strategy and a lack of infrastructure.

In January 2021, the UK AI Council published the AI Roadmap, which recommended that the government needs to develop and implement a UK National AI Strategy to keep up momentum. The Roadmap pointed to the established themes of ensuring public confidence by integrating good data ethics and security and carefully considering social impacts and proper regulation, but additionally made 16 recommendations across four key areas to help in guiding the government to develop such a Strategy:

  • Support for research, development and innovation – doubling down on previous investment and looking forwards, being adaptable and responsive to disruption;
  • Investment in skills and diversity, improving literacy in AI across the population with enhanced AI-related skills at all levels of education;
  • Sound physical, digital and virtual infrastructure, including robust and flexible regulation as a form of social infrastructure, resulting in good governance that boosts public trust; and
  • National and cross-sector adoption of AI technology to meaningfully advance public and private sector confidence and application of the technology, in particular in the health care industry, and in relation to climate change, defence and security.[2]

On 12 March 2021, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden announced the UK’s forthcoming National AI Strategy as part of DCMS’ 10 Tech Priorities.[3]  The Strategy needs to, “set a time frame that will position the UK for success” at this pivotal time, in order to maximise on the potential benefits of the technology.

The new AI Strategy will focus on:

  • growth of the economy through widespread use of AI technologies;
  • ethical, safe and trustworthy development of responsible AI; and
  • resilience in the face of change through an emphasis on skills, talent and R&D.[4]

From a regulatory and commercial perspective, the Roadmap recognised that, “[t]he UK needs to develop a world-class enabling environment with strong but flexible legislation and well-resourced, capable regulators able to provide responsive guidance and timely oversight. As AI becomes more integrated into daily life, developing trustworthy technology is vital and businesses will require a novel approach to good governance and consideration of the ethical and societal implications of AI as part of the design process, with greater multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches throughout.” [5]

We look forward to seeing how the government develops its Strategy and how closely it will follow the recommendations of the AI Roadmap, as well as taking into consideration wider international discussion and regulatory proposals, including the recently published Regulation on a European Approach for Artificial Intelligence which we discuss here.[6]

Bristows Life Science Summit 2021

Following on from the success of our previous Bristows Life Sciences Summit on gene editing, we will be exploring the use of artificial intelligence in the medical sphere in another big debate in November 2021.

Keep an eye out on our events page for further details, and register your interest here.

[1] The Global AI Index –
[2] UK AI Council – AI Roadmap
[3] Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – 10 Tech Priorities
[4] UK Government publication – New strategy to unleash the transformational power of Artificial Intelligence
[5] UK AI Council – AI Roadmap 
[6] Proposal for a Regulation laying down harmonised rules on artificial intelligence