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Royal Society autumn budget response

22 November 2017

The 2017 autumn budget makes welcome announcements of support for the UK’s growing tech sector, in a number of areas that the Royal Society has been active in. This support is critical to the country’s economy and to addressing a wealth of social and business needs.

Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said:

"This budget sends a clear signal that the Government is focused on the UK’s technological future, and the crucial pipeline of skills needed to ensure that we remain at the forefront of the technological revolution.

“Technologies such as machine learning and AI have the potential to improve our lives in many ways, including creating jobs, and the Government has also recognised that to truly take advantage of this potential there is much work to be done to ensure the benefits are shared by all.”

In his presentation, the Chancellor of the Exchequer called for:

An additional £2.3 billion for Research and Development in 2021/22 commitment to meet a target of 2.4% of GDP invested in UK R&D within ten years, and a longer-term goal of 3%.

Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said:

“The UK is a world leader in research and it makes sense to invest in the people, ideas and institutions that can help build a strong, resilient economy.  While we are ahead in terms of quality, we lag behind many other countries in terms of investment but the Government is committed to putting that right.

“The challenge will be to ensure we get the balance of investment right. We need the quicker wins of supporting the applications of the science and we also need to invest in creating new knowledge that will pay off for future generations.”

Find details of R&D investment in the UK.

£9m for a new body to 'enable ethical innovation in AI and data’

Professor Ottoline Leyser, co-chair of the Royal Society and British Academy’s data governance report, said:

“We are encouraged that the Government is investing in a body on AI and data use. We believe that this body should have a firm focus on the future challenges that new technologies present, and we look forward to working with Government to shape it. It is vital that this body earns public trust and enables the wide-spread take up of data-enabled technologies for the benefit of all. We have also clearly made the case that effective governance should focus on the uses of data driven technologies, not the technologies themselves.”

The Royal Society’s Machine Learning and Data Management and Use reports illustrate how the amount of data generated has reached previously unimaginable levels – 90 per cent of the world’s data has been created within the last five years.

Together with the British Academy, the Society has called for a stewardship body that can oversee the governance landscape on data use. The Society believes that this body should firmly have an eye on the future challenges of data governance, and not seek to replicate existing governance structures, which already provide a great deal of what is necessary for the here and now. We have also made the case that we should not seek to govern AI and machine learning technologies themselves, but rather focus on the uses of data driven technologies, and on applications in sectors where governance is unlikely to be robust in the future. It is vital that this body works transparently and through open dialogue, so that it addresses public trust and confidence, which is needed to enable the safe and rapid uptake of data-enabled technologies for the benefit of all in society.

Funding for increased uptake of maths at schools

Professor Frank Kelly FRS, Chair of the Royal Society Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education, said:

"Mathematics is essential for understanding the modern world and provides the foundations for economic prosperity. If we want to prepare young people for the future workplace and society they should all be studying maths to 18 as recommended by the Smith Review. The Government's recognition of the importance of maths skills and their commitment to increasing uptake in schools and colleges is a step in the right direction."

The Royal Society welcomes funding that will increase young people’s participation in mathematics as a key recommendation in our 2014 Vision report is that all students should be studying science and maths up to age 18. Only 13% of young people in the UK study maths beyond 16, and 1 in 4 economically active adults are functionally innumerate.

Investing £100m in training computing education teachers

Professor Steve Furber FRS, Chair of the After the Reboot report, said:

“The rate at which technology is transforming the workplace means that we live in a world where many primary schoolchildren will work in technology-based roles that do not yet exist, so it is essential that future generations can apply digital skills with confidence. This significant Government investment in supporting computing teachers will be vital to unlocking the creativity and productivity of the next generation."

The Royal Society welcomes the announcement of £100m for 8,000 fully-qualified computer science teachers supported by a new National Centre for Computing, which exceeds the recommendation in our recently launched report, After the Reboot, which highlighted the fragile state of computing education in the country. This will be a significant boost to computing education, which is essential to meet the skills needs of businesses, and to ensure that the current generation of students have the skills they need for the future economy.

Investment in the AI sector

Professor Peter Donnelly FRS, Chair of the Royal Society’s machine learning working group, said:

“The Government’s investment in the AI sector is welcome news. Machine learning and AI hold significant promise for a range of industries and businesses who are not yet making use of this technology, and Government support is vital to delivering these benefits more quickly.”

The £75 million for Artificial Intelligence meets the calls in the Royal Society’s Machine Learning report for Government support for the sector and for increasing uptake of machine learning and AI technologies by UK businesses. We are also pleased to see there is also more money for PhDs in AI and machine learning, another key ask in the report.