UK robotics research gets £17.3m pledge

A robot built by a British companyImage copyright

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Robothespian was built by a British company to interact with the public

Funding of £17.3m ($22m) for artificial intelligence and robotics research to be carried out by British universities is to be announced by the government.

It is part of the government’s digital strategy, to be published by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley on Wednesday.

A report by Accenture released last year estimated that AI could contribute up to £654bn to the UK economy by 2035.

But the government was criticised last year for its support of the UK tech scene.

As part of the new digital strategy, computer scientist Prof Dame Wendy Hall and tech CEO Jerome Pesenti, former chief data scientist at IBM, have been asked to review the UK’s artificial intelligence sector.

“Our scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs are at the forefront of the development of artificial intelligence and I’m looking forward to exploring how industry and government can work together to support the technology in the UK,” said Dame Wendy.

Mrs Bradley described the UK as a pioneer of artificial intelligence.

“Backing our thriving digital economy to expand and grow by putting the best foundations in place to develop new technology is a vital part of this government’s plan to build a modern, dynamic and global trading nation,” she said.

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Karen Bradley MP is due to unveil the government’s Digital Strategy this week

However, in January this year the organiser of the CES tech fair told the BBC it was “a source of embarrassment” that there was a small British presence at the event compared with other countries.

More than 177,000 people attended the 2017 gathering in Las Vegas, at which robotics was a theme.

The event drew thousands of exhibitors from around the world seeking investment, distribution deals and publicity, but France sent almost five times more tech firms than Britain.

“Britain’s been a little slow to the game honestly. We have a minister from Britain coming but there’s not a lot of activity that we’ve seen at CES,” said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, which organises the event.

A spokeswoman for the UK’s Department for International Trade said at the time that it was keen to support UK robotics companies.

“We want to help UK businesses make the most of trade and investment opportunities including in the US, through targeted support and bespoke business matching that better maximises their presence to win vital contracts abroad,” she said.