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UK risks losing out in AI ‘arms race’ says BT data chief

Image credit: chrisdorney via Shutterstock

The UK is at risk of “losing out” to the US and China if it does not provide adequate support to the artificial intelligence sector, according to BT’s AI head.

Adrian Joseph, chief data and AI officer at BT, told a parliamentary meeting of the Science and Technology Committee that the global tech industry is in an AI “arms race” in which the UK has the potential to be “left behind” without proper investment.

Joseph was joined by representatives from Google and Microsoft to face questions from MPs about the task of governing AI, a technology which has stormed back into mainstream attention thanks to the viral success of companies like Open AI, maker of large language model chatbot ChatGPT.

Joseph acknowledged that competitiveness in the AI sector is nothing new. Recent innovations in generative AI specifically, however, have significantly heated up the race.

“We’ve been in that race for a very, very long time. This is not new. The Big Tech companies have been acquiring startups investing in their own expertise for 10, if not 20 years now.”

Pointing to the high-profile AI acquisitions from abroad, including Microsoft with Open AI and Google with Anthropic, he said he worried about the UK maintaining AI “sovereignty”.

“As a member of the AI council, we [BT] have written to the government and strongly suggested that the UK should have a national investment in LLM,” Joseph said.

Leverage AI startups or get left behind

LLM or large language model is a type of AI technology that involves training a programme on vast amounts of data to teach it language patterns that can help it generate human-sounding text. It is an essential component of generative AI software, including ChatGPT.

“There’s a risk that we in the UK will lose out to the large tech companies and possibly China. There’s a very real risk, that unless we begin to leverage and invest and encourage our startup communities to leverage the great academic institutions that we’ve got to ensure that we have public and private sector all working together…we in the UK could be left behind.”

Conversations around regulating AI have shot to the forefront of many tech-minded policymakers this year. Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Olney, in an interview with UKTN, recently admitted that part of the great challenge around AI regulation for politicians is having a full understanding of the technology when it evolves so rapidly.