The UK's International Technology Strategy
The Government recently released its International Technology Strategy (ITS) – designed to make the UK a ‘science and technology superpower’, with a particular emphasis on Artificial Intelligence (AI). We look at what the strategy entails, how AI is already being used, and how it will impact on the charity and not-for-profit (NfP) tech sectors, higher education, the NHS and central government.
The International Technology Strategy is the brainchild of the newly-established Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, states in her foreword that the department was created to address the ‘opportunities and challenges’ which rapid technological change brings, and reiterates the government’s commitment to science and technology to drive UK growth and security.
The current Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, adds ten priority actions in his foreword.
These include closer cooperation with ‘like-minded’ nations, creating a new Technology Centre of Expertise, increasing the number of UK ‘Tech Envoys’ to spread the concept of the UK’s tech expertise across the world, build on the success of the UK’s Future Tech Forum, establish tech-based partnerships, build on the UK’s election to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Council, develop technological solutions to global challenges through the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) R&D, and promote tech investment in the UK.
The Government already has an AI Strategy in which it states its aims to invest and plan for AI in the long-term, support the UK’s transition to an AI-enabled economy, and ensure its governance.
In the ITS AI features prominently – the document outlines the benefits it could bring to the UK, as well as those things that put our society at risk.
It defines AI as “machines that perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, especially when the machines learn from data how to do those tasks.”
AI is already used widely for analysis, problem solving, language interpretation and perception, and is common in such things as chatbots, navigation apps and social media newsfeed personalisation.
In the future AI technologies have the potential for use in government, business and the public sector, as well as in the charity and NfP sectors, higher education and within the NHS. Let’s examine each of these sectors in turn to see how AI has already impacted them.
Charities and Non-Profit Organisations
Some charities and non-profit organisations are already using AI, finding it a useful tool to save on limited resources in boosting their user experience, enabling voice-activated donations or improving their own recruitment and retention rates.
Many find it helps them both increase their efficiency and reduce their costs, engage more effectively with their donors as well as provide them with a deeper understanding of their donor’s behaviour.
They have achieved this by employing AI virtual assistants and chatbots, such as those found at The Brighton Women’s Centre which supports women from all backgrounds to live a happier life, and The Ramblers which encourages people to get outdoors and enjoy the countryside which both employ chatbots, and Autism Unlimited which has an option to have the website read to the user. Other innovations include the option to donate to a charity via a smart speaker.
AI can also help charities deliver on their goals by using it to analyse the data it collects when deciding where to spend its donations, which of its fundraising campaigns are most effective, and saving money on back-office functions through automation.
In 2021 the Government announced £36 million to boost AI technology within the NHS. This money was earmarked for 38 new pioneering projects to ‘help revolutionise care’ and ‘accelerate diagnosis’.
We’ve looked at digital in the NHS before, discussing Virtual Wards, and looking at how digital can create efficiencies, but AI has the potential to drastically affect both patient care and operational challenges in line with the NHS’s Long Term Plan.
Specific examples of how this money will be spent include Mia Mammography Intelligent Assessment which uses neural networks which have been trained on over 3 million images to analyse standard mammograms for breast cancer screening, speeding up the process and reducing anxiety for women awaiting their results.
AI is also being used to improve back office efficiency by reducing the complexity of optimising theatre schedules, resolving appointment conflicts, reducing the time spent on manual referrals, and reducing the inefficient admin costs.
Healthy.io is an app which turns a smartphone camera into a clinical grade tool to detect early signs of kidney disease in patients with diabetes and high blood pressure.
The patient’s urine is tested at home, and the results are sent directly to the Electronic Medical Record, which enables real-time results to be examined by clinicians. It’s anticipated that Healthy.io will increase uptake of testing, improve its quality, reduce the primary care workload and create savings.
AI is having a significant impact on higher education in various ways. For example, AI technology can analyse a student's learning style and performance to personalise the learning experience, which in some cases can lead to increased student engagement and better learning outcomes.
However, there has been speculation over the ethical implications of students using AI to complete their work.
Where AI may prove most useful for education is in areas such as adaptive testing; AI can create adaptive tests that adjust the difficulty level of questions based on a student's performance, which in turn could help to identify areas where a student needs more support and provide more targeted learning, enabling institutions to offer a more rounded approach for students of varying abilities.
For professionals in the space, such as teachers and lecturers, AI can automate administrative tasks such as scheduling, grading, and data entry, freeing up time for faculty and staff to focus on teaching and research.
The Government already uses AI in many public sector applications. In 2019 it published a Guide to Using Artificial Intelligence in the Public Sector which estimated that by 2030 AI’s contribution to UK GDP could be as large as 5%. Over the last four years much has changed with the economy but the use of AI continues. Let’s look at some examples.
The Department for Transport wanted to improve MOT testing and ensure standards remained high.
A technique called ‘clustering’ (grouping unlabelled examples together) was used to analyse the results of MOT centres based on the behaviour they demonstrated when conducting MOT tests to create a ‘risk’ score. This enabled the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to rank both individual garages as well as the testers who work there to identify regional trends, saving preparation time for examiners as well as raising standards among MOT results.
The Government Digital Service wanted to make GOV.UK more accessible and used natural language processing (NLP) and classification to ‘tag’ over 100,000 untagged pages in order to organise information.
A model was trained to recognise patterns on already-tagged pages, NLP was used to make the text machine readable, and used this data to learn patterns predicting where untagged pages would best fit into sub-branches. Up to 96% of existing content was tagged and new tags could be suggested with high accuracy.
The process was completed within six months.
NLP was also used when the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) wanted to identify patterns across prison reports to further inform it of how factors such as inmate conflict and geography affect different prisons. Using NLP it analysed over 250,000 sentences of unstructured text in over 500 reports which had previously proved overwhelming for staff to deal with manually.
Specific words were tracked, an intelligent search tool was developed and a new function added new reports to the tool’s library so that the data is always up-to-date.
This means that staff can quickly and easily access information in the report and identify trends.
There’s no doubt that AI has the potential to change and enhance many people’s lives and make services faster and more efficient.
However this must be done in a responsible, secure and ethical manner, not least in the collection and use of data. Ethical frameworks will need to be further developed and strengthened to avoid AI, which is inherently neutral, becoming compromised or used for nefarious purposes.