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UK takes significant steps towards becoming an AI superpower, new report finds

A new study published today suggests the UK has the potential to be a global superpower when it comes to the use of emerging technology across the public sector to improve policy outcomes.

The independent report carried out by WPI Economics on behalf of Splunk, the data platform leader for observability and security, examines how four European countries - France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom - are using data for policy making. The research highlights how data has been used in areas from reducing education and health inequalities to tackling organised crime and enhancing the natural environment. The analysis showcases how far Covid-19 has reignited ambition across Europe to address serious data gaps given how critical a data-driven public sector proved to be during the crisis, with certain countries taking forward lessons learnt from the pandemic more than others. 

The research analyses each government’s use of data through two assessments:

  1. How much strategic emphasis do governments put on data use within policymaking, with a focus on the extent to which a government is “data driven” as well as on their level of data innovation

  2. Whether governments have the right data governance foundations to enable a better use of data from an operational perspective, including the quality of data, security and the level of data integration within government

The report shows how the UK is making significant progress when it comes to the adoption of emerging technologies such as the use of artificial intelligence:

  • The UK performed strongly in the global AI Readiness Index, having set up the NHS AI Lab and the new Defence AI centre

  • The UK has invested more than £2.3billion since 2014 into AI to improve data management, as well as introduce technology such as machine learning to modernise the UK’s public services

  • AI was at the forefront of efforts during the pandemic, with the NHS using AI for medical imaging to better detect the severity of a patient’s condition and provide direct patient care

  • AI imaging is now helping healthcare workers screen efficiently for other diseases including cancer, helping the NHS recover from the backlog of patients 

The report suggests that the UK could be a global superpower – rivalling countries such as Singapore - in the use of emerging technologies to solve policy challenges. By updating some of Whitehall’s legacy IT systems, government bodies could boost data sharing both within and across different agencies to ensure AI and machine learning could be used even more widely to solve socio-economic challenges from crime reduction to education inequalities. 

Petra Jenner, SVP and General Manager for EMEA said: 

“The UK has the potential to be a global superpower in the adoption of emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning to help tackle major policy challenges from climate change to healthcare. There are further opportunities available around emerging technologies but they require investment in up-to-date software and modernising legacy IT systems. Many AI and machine learning tools rely on interoperability across departments and a lack of data sharing across UK Government and public sectors has ultimately stalled deployment. ”

Michelle Donelan MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said:

"The UK Government passionately believes in the ability of emerging technologies, including in AI, to change our country for the better. This report shows the incredible strides that have been made so far, but of course we want to go further and faster. 

Data driven decision-making is the key to modernising the UK’s public services, as was exampled during the pandemic. We wholeheartedly agree that the UK could and should be a global superpower in this space in the coming years, and we have ambitious plans on data that will allow this to become a reality."

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