Artificial Intelligence - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:40 pm on 26th April 2018.

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Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 1:40 pm, 26th April 2018

My Lords, I am grateful for the many questions that I have to answer from the two noble Lords. I obviously should start by paying tribute to the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. There was no reference to it in today’s Statement, and I take it as a compliment that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, thinks that DCMS works so quickly that we should include it in the sector deal a mere two or three weeks after it was published. I can say that we very much welcome the report. We thought it was a good piece of work and, in due course, we will provide a response. The report will help to inform actions going forward. It is important to understand that the sector deal today is only the beginning. When the noble Lord talks about the tip of the iceberg, that is very true. There are some things we intend to do, with facilities to make sure that they are monitored properly in the office of AI within the Government. I pay tribute to the noble Lord and his committee for that, and we will certainly look at that carefully.

Both noble Lords spoke of the skills gap. The noble Lord talked about Korea when referring to the 200 new PhDs, but we are not talking about North Korea; we are not just going to create 200 PhDs a year. They are proper PhDs that the Government will fund, leading to 1,000 government-funded extra PhDs by 2025. They are critical for the future but they are not the only areas in skills. The 200 have already been financed and there will be 450 by 2021 and 1,000 by 2025. They are starting in a phase-and-accelerating fashion in numbers per year.

Talking of skills and education, I accept, and have said before, that creativity is important. The Digital Catapult has identified the creative industries as one of the two high-profile potential areas for AI business growth in the UK. We understand that it is not simply a question of computer science, mathematics and such areas. To use the benefit of AI, we need creative minds. The businesses that already exist where we have a leading role in the world, have absolutely accepted that. One of the points of having the AI council is that it will bring together the Government, academia and the sectors to make sure that these points are raised at the highest level.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, talked in particular about digital infrastructure and the commitment to fibre to the premises. We absolutely understand that we are behind many countries in fibre-optic connectivity. What he did not say is that we are ahead of Europe in superfast broadband by a long way, but we absolutely understand that we cannot be complacent. We are moving towards fibre to the premises. That is our goal and we absolutely accept that it needs to be done.

On visas, both noble Lords said that they welcomed the doubling of exceptional talent visas. They are for exceptionally talented people. We need to come to an understanding about the need for the new rules for immigration—luckily my noble friend from the Home Office is sitting here who will be very interested in this. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, talked about cross-government work on this, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement Jones, mentioned evidence. Our job is to make sure that the Home Office understands that when we come up with future Immigration Rules—we absolutely understand this is international business—we will need to have the best minds from around the world here. They will be attracted by our leading universities and the opportunities that will exist, and which this sector deal is trying to encourage.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, talked about funding. When some of these things are mentioned, how much is actually new funding is a valid point. We have talked about just under £1 billion for this sector deal. Of this, about £600 million is new spending, and £342 million is existing spending that has either been repositioned or is in place already. Of that £600 million of new spending, about £300 million comes from the Government and, very encouragingly, £303 million from industry and the sector. For example, £35 million is from a Japanese venture capital company opening its first European HQ in the UK, £10 million is from Cambridge for the supercomputer, and there are others. About two-thirds is new money.

We absolutely accept that diversity is important, not only because it is the right thing to do, which it is, but because of all the talent we need to go forward. We have introduced the tech talent charter specifically to address that. Three weeks ago, I was at the G7 in Montreal talking about this and it resonated. In fact, we were held up in lights for it. We have 180 firms signed up and aim to have 500 by the end of the year. It is meaningful, and not just motherhood and apple pie about what we wish to do, because one of the things that firms sign up to is providing data centrally on the diversity aspects of their business so that we can compare and see that there is actual and meaningful progress. The charter will give organisations tangible actions and principles that they can adopt to become more gender-diverse.

I think that answers most of the questions. I am grateful for the broad welcome that both noble Lords have given.