Amy Reeve 4 Jul 2018 03:43pm

Supporting AI start-ups crucial for UK

In April this year the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence released its much-anticipated report on whether the UK is ready, willing and able to take advantage of this next wave of automation

The report’s recommendations included an artificial intelligence (AI) code, to shape AI positively for the public’s benefit, as well as significant government investment in skills and training.

On the release of the report, chairman Lord Clement-Jones highlighted the importance of investment. “We want to make sure that this country remains a cutting-edge place to research and develop this exciting technology. However, start-ups can struggle to scale up on their own. Our recommendations for a growth fund for SMEs and changes to the immigration system will help,” he said.

Speaking at an ICAEW conference today on how to boost finance for the UK’s Industrial Strategy – where AI and data is one of the four “grand challenges” or trends expected to transform the UK’s future – Lord Clement-Jones reiterated how crucial funding is for UK AI start-ups to scale, compete and drive growth; and also why a talent pipeline is so necessary.

This message should not get lost amid the “terminator robot narrative” created by some of the world’s media, he said, or indeed by SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has said AI is likely to destroy humans. Lord Clement-Jones argued that AI will provide great opportunities for the UK, as well as risks, but evidence shows that the risks are avoidable.

Speaking to an audience of entrepreneurs, public funders and venture capitalists, he said he was buoyed by a flexible and innovative grass-roots culture in the UK, where many companies are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities from AI, but that later-stage finance can be a “real challenge” for companies wishing to scale-up.

While the various schemes and funds available in the UK are certainly a boon for these businesses, he said, he would like to see more ambition and leadership in the public and private sector, especially with the uncertainty caused by Brexit.

The government must be willing to commit to underwriting or replacing funding after Britain leaves the EU, he said, and ensure that the UK also has access to talent and people with “the skills required for the future.” A skills shortage would be damaging and the wrong immigration policy could be a “serious detriment” to the UK’s ambitions in this space.

ICAEW CEO Michael Izza chose today’s conference to launch ICAEW’s AI/Big data scheme for corporate finance transactions. He said the institute will collaborate with governments, professional services firms, regulators, financial institutions and other public-interest stakeholders to ensure companies, advisers and investment professionals can take the opportunities and tackle the risks involved in these new advanced digital technologies.

Izza said, “It is clearly vital that the government and other business organisations do more to attract venture capital to the UK. The government has provided an additional £2.5bn of British patient capital to support UK investment.

“This has the potential for the scale-up of new ventures and projects that emerge from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. But we want Britain to be best in class when it comes to financing the kinds of industries, like cutting-edge technology, where we lead the world.

“This is why we are keen to work closely with government, UKRI and other stakeholders to increase awareness among businesses and technologists of the new opportunities presented by the industrial strategy.”