23 November 2017

Beyond driverless cars: our take on the UK’s Autumn Budget 2017

by Hannah Miller and Richard Stirling

This week Philip Hammond unveiled his first Autumn budget, in which he laid out his vision for the UK to become a world leader in innovative technologies including artificial intelligence (AI). Oxford Insights’ view is that the budget is a good step in the right direction – but investment in AI still does not go far enough.

The emphasis on driverless cars may capture the zeitgeist, but there are lots more interesting things going on in the UK tech and R&D sectors that are equally (or more) worthy of government funding. Image from UK Department for Transport's flick…

The emphasis on driverless cars may capture the zeitgeist, but there are lots more interesting things going on in the UK tech and R&D sectors that are equally (or more) worthy of government funding. Image from UK Department for Transport’s flickr page


Investing in innovation for the future of the economy was the key theme of this week’s budget. Hammond emphasised the economic benefits of innovation, with AI forecast to increase productivity by up to 30% in some industries, and increase GDP by 10% by 2030. The Government’s forthcoming Industrial Strategy will emphasise public investment in important areas for innovation such as research and development, and digital communications.

Key points:

  • £75 million set aside to fund key recommendations from the independent AI review, including establishing ‘data trusts’ to enable better data access;
  • UK to found world-first Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to ensure “safe, ethical and ground-breaking innovation in AI and data-driven technologies”;
  • New AI fellowships to be created, including 450 PhD research posts.

Following the Prime Minister’s recent commitment to invest in the UK tech sector, we were expecting a focus on innovation in this week’s budget. We welcome the additional funds for developing AI in the UK, however the £75 million pledged is likely to be dwarfed by other countries jostling to be world leaders in AI, such as China and Canada.

The UK comes from a position of strength in the competition to be the best in the world in artificial intelligence because we have world class research universities, a broad spectrum of skills, and a flexible capital market. These things make the UK one of the best places in the world to start a business and hire talent. To remain competitive, the Government needs to invest, and invest more, in AI.

We welcome the Budget’s emphasis on investing in digital skills and human capital. Creating a bigger and richer cadre of experts on AI is a terrific investment. It will need to be supplemented by related efforts to ensure that the UK gains the most it can from its investment beyond the life spans of PhDs and fellowships. We expect that the 450 PhD students will include outstanding international talent, and we hope they will have incentives to stay in the UK. We would also like to see better opportunities for newly-minted PhDs to work for the UK’s universities and governments, and not only for the richest tech companies in the UK and abroad.

Especially with the right follow-up policies, the new fellowships and PhD posts created will likely provide much greater pay-off longer term than investing in specific companies or technologies – such as driverless cars. Hammond’s focus on driverless cars is puzzling, as there are many more applications of AI and machine learning in which UK has better starting conditions. Going forward, the Government would do well to look to areas where the UK currently possesses comparative advantage, such as machine learning in healthcare, or applications in agriculture. The emphasis on driverless cars may capture the zeitgeist, but there are lots more interesting things going on in the UK tech and R&D sectors that are equally (or more) worthy of government funding.

Finally, we welcome the announcement of the world-first Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. The ethical issues around AI and other new technologies are some of the biggest questions facing mankind today, and it is great for the UK to be at the forefront of grappling with these. We spoke about the importance of ethics in our response to the Government’s AI review, where we argued that ethical and regulatory frameworks for AI are critical, if AI is to be a force for good in society.

The UK is currently well-positioned as a global leader in AI. Acknowledging the importance of innovative technologies such as AI for the future of our economy, as this budget does, is an important step. To ensure that the UK remains at the cutting edge going forward, the Government will need to sustain and deepen its commitment to AI.


More insights

21 April 2017

Why Government is ready for AI

12 July 2017

Five levels of AI in public service

26 July 2017

Making it personal: civil service and morality

10 August 2017

AI: Is a robot assistant going to steal your job?

19 September 2017

AI and legitimacy: government in the age of the machine

06 October 2017

More Than The Trees Are Worth? Intangibles, Decision-Making, and the Meares Island Logging Conflict

16 October 2017

The UK Government’s AI review: what’s missing?

23 October 2017

Why unconference? #Reimagine2017

03 November 2017

AI: the ultimate intern

09 November 2017

Motherboard knows best?

05 December 2017

Why Black people don’t start businesses (and how more inclusive innovation could make a difference)

06 December 2017

“The things that make me interesting cannot be digitised”: leadership lessons from the Drucker Forum

23 January 2018

Want to get serious about artificial intelligence? You’ll need an AI strategy

15 February 2018

Economic disruption and runaway AI: what can governments do?

26 April 2018

Ranking governments on AI – it’s time to act

08 May 2018

AI in the UK: are we ‘ready, willing and able’?

24 May 2018

Mexico leads Latin America as one of the first ten countries in the world to launch an artificial intelligence strategy

05 July 2018

Beyond borders: talking at TEDxLondon

13 July 2018

Is the UK ready, willing and able for AI? The Government responds to the Lords’ report

17 July 2018

Suspending or shaping the AI policy frontier: has Germany become part of the AI strategy fallacy?

27 July 2018

From open data to artificial intelligence: the next frontier in anti-corruption

01 August 2018

Why every city needs to take action on AI

09 August 2018

When good intentions go bad: the role of technology in terrorist content online

26 September 2018

Actions speak louder than words: the role of technology in combating terrorist content online

08 February 2019

More than STEM: how teaching human specialties will help prepare kids for AI

02 May 2019

Should we be scared of artificial intelligence?

04 June 2019

Ethics and AI: a crash course

25 July 2019

Dear Boris

01 August 2019

AI: more than human?

06 August 2019

Towards Synthetic Reality: When DeepFakes meet AR/VR

19 September 2019

Predictive Analytics, Public Services and Poverty

10 January 2020

To tackle regional inequality, AI strategies need to go local

20 April 2020

Workshops in an age of COVID and lockdown

10 September 2020

Will automation accelerate what coronavirus started?

10 September 2020

Promoting gender equality and social inclusion through public procurement

21 September 2020

The Social Dilemma: A failed attempt to land a punch on Big Tech

20 October 2020

Data and Power: AI and Development in the Global South

23 December 2020

The ‘Creepiness Test’: When should we worry that AI is making decisions for us?

13 June 2022

Data promises to support climate action. Is it a double-edged sword?

30 September 2022

Towards a human-centred vision for public services: Human-Centred Public Services Index

06 October 2022

Why You Should Know and Care About Algorithmic Transparency

26 October 2022

Harnessing data for the public good: What can governments do?

09 December 2022

Behind the scenes of the Government AI Readiness Index

06 February 2023

Reflections on the Intel® AI for Youth Program

01 May 2023

Canada’s AI Policy: Leading the way in ethics, innovation, and talent

15 May 2023

Day in the life series: Giulia, Consultant

15 May 2023

Day in the life series: Emma, Consultant

17 May 2023

Day in the life series: Kirsty, Head of Programmes

18 May 2023

Day in the life series: Sully, Partnerships Associate/Consultant

19 May 2023

LLMs in Government: Brainstorming Applications

23 May 2023

Bahrain: Becoming a regional R&D Hub

30 May 2023

Driving AI adoption in the public sector: Uruguay’s efforts on capacity-building, trust, and AI ethics

07 June 2023

Jordan’s AI policy journey: Bridging vision and implementation

12 June 2023

Response to the UK’s Global Summit on AI Safety

20 June 2023

 Unlocking the economic potential of AI: Tajikistan’s plans to become more AI-ready

11 July 2023

Government transparency and anti-corruption standards: Reflections from the EITI Global Conference in Dakar, Senegal

31 August 2023

What is quantum technology and why should policymakers care about it?

21 September 2023

Practical tools for designers in government looking to avoid ethical AI nightmares

23 October 2023

Collective Intelligence: exploring ‘wicked problems’ in National Security

23 October 2023

Exploring the concepts of digital twin, digital shadow, and digital model

30 October 2023

How to hire privileged white men

09 November 2023

Inclusive consensus building: Reflections from day 4 of AI Fringe

13 November 2023

AI for Climate Change: Can AI help us improve our home’s energy efficiency?

14 November 2023

Navigating the AI summit boom: Initial reflections

20 November 2023

AI for Climate Change: Improving home energy efficiency by retrofitting

24 November 2023

Will AI kill us all?

27 November 2023

AI for Climate Change: Preventing and predicting wildfires 

28 November 2023

Service Design in Government 2023: conference reflections

04 December 2023

AI for Climate Change: Using artificial and indigenous Intelligence to fight climate change

06 December 2023

Release: 2023 Government AI Readiness Index reveals which governments are most prepared to use AI

11 December 2023

AI for Climate Change: AI for flood adaptation plans and disaster relief

18 December 2023

AI for Climate Change: Managing floods using AI Early Warning Systems