Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said that whoever cracks automated intelligence (AI) first will dominate the world. He made the point that any country with a ‘monopolist’ position in AI will be all-powerful economically, politically and militarily.
In response to Putin’s comments, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that "competition for AI superiority at national level is the most likely cause of WW3."
Putin and Musk may well be over-stating it, but there’s no doubt that AI is only going to become more and more important, and it’s perhaps unsurprising therefore that it featured relatively prominently in the UK Chancellor’s speech during his recent Budget announcement.
He didn’t mention all-powerful drone armies, but he did unveil plans to create a national advisory body to help pave the way for the wider adoption of innovative technology such as autonomous, driverless vehicles. He also outlined measures related to further research into AI and robotics.
Few will suspect that Philip Hammond is on a mission to conquer the world, but he certainly seems to see AI as one way of boosting the UK’s productivity.
The chancellor also announced a further £7bn expansion of the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) and promised to unlock £20bn of patient capital over the next 10 years to invest in high-growth firms through tax reliefs.
Technology as a whole featured quite prominently in the Chancellor’s presentation – including positive measures to treble the number of computer science teachers. Announcements regarding electric vehicles were also a major plus in my eyes. He earmarked money for a national charging network and subsidies for vehicle purchases.
The government will contribute £200m to a £400m fund to upgrade the electric car-charging infrastructure, as well as setting aside a further £40m for research and development into charging technology.
The chancellor committed a further £100m to maintain a car-buying subsidy until 2020, which contributes up to £4,500 towards the cost of buying an electric vehicle.
There are 115,000 electric cars in the UK and 13,000 charging points spread across 4,500 locations. I recently bought an electric car (a Tesla to be precise made by the aforementioned Elon Musk’s company), and I certainly think that Northern Ireland could do with more charging points, and that business parks and landlords could benefit from being more proactive in this space.
Other measures in the budget to increase the take-up of next generation vehicles include a commitment to make 25 percent of cars in central government department fleets electric by 2022, and to remove any tax for employees who recharge their vehicles at work. An innovation prize will also be launched by the National Infrastructure Commission to determine how roads should be built to support self-driving cars.
Overall, I think the Budget was a vote of confidence in the wider tech sector and its key role in boosting productivity in the economy and improving the world in which we live. Remarkably, a new tech company is formed every hour in the UK, and, the Chancellor wants to see that further enhanced to every half hour. We may be some time off robots dominating the world, but the tech sector certainly appears to be dominating the political and economic debate.