It’s common for politicians and business leaders to proclaim that their country is, or is going to be – the market leader in this or that. The US is famous for more or less every city claiming to be ‘The [fill in the blank] Capital of the World’. The latest innovation to be the subject of such proclamations, is, of course, AI and machine learning.
What does it actually mean to say a country is a leader in something when that something isn’t physical or tangible, i.e. not counting the number of cars manufactured or the number of oranges exported each year?
With AI that isn’t clear, but metrics such as the volume of VC investment in UK startups, the number of relevant PhDs obtained, the market capitalisation of AI companies (OK, perhaps it’s a bit early for that one) are some bandied around and probably point to an answer.
The 11th London.ai event at the end of January, held this time at one of Google’s offices, demonstrated the vibrancy of the London AI community. What was striking – besides four great presentations – was the diversity of the presenters. They comprised Noor Shaker , CEO of GTN.AI was educated in Syria and Denmark and is now based in London; Julien Cornebise, a London-based French national, former DeepMind employee and now director of research at Element.AI and head of the Canadian company’s recently-opened London operation; Florian Douetteau, CEO of Dataiku based in Paris and Andrew Trask, a PhD Student at Oxford, who gave a fascinating presentation on the work of OpenMined, and
The UK AI communities in both London and other majors centres – notably Cambridge – rely on the best of the best, regardless of their nationality. That’s what can make somewhere truly a capital of the world. It also vividly demonstrated the tragedy and rank stupidity of a notion such as Brexit, which if it happens as some would like, would eventually relegate the UK to the bottom rungs of any rankings ladders, of that I’m sure.
That same week I visited a very different setting. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence (APPG AI) has been meeting since January 2017. The latest meeting was focused on data and its usage within the context of AI.
The incongruity of the faded mock-gothic surroundings of Committee Room 1 in House of Lords, where 162 people crammed in talking about technology that hasn’t really taken off yet was palpable. The committee heard from a couple of vendors, an academic but the main draw – in my view anyway – was Elizabeth Denham (who like the Governor of the Bank of England, is Canadian), the UK Information Commissioner and head of the Information Commissioner’s Office. Speaking four months before GDPR becomes law, she talked about privacy and the accountability GDPR imposes on organizations. A good roundup of the proceedings is here.
There are many predictions around of how much a prominent position in the AI global community could give to the UK economy – some bullish and others distinctly bearish. But whatever path it takes, we must do what we can to keep encourage entrepreneurs, investors and researchers into AI and machine learning to view London and the UK as a suitable location for them to explore their ambitions. To do anything to discourage all-comers would be madness.