Feb 20, 2019 - Technology

The United Kingdom ups its AI play

An Enigma codebreaker like the one developed by Alan Turing. Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty

Seeking to play in a global technology race dominated by the U.S. and China, the U.K. says it will pay for about 1,200 students to earn AI master's and PhDs in its universities, and fund the salaries of 3 to 5 more to join the nation's top AI lab.

The big picture: Given the paucity of AI talent, 1,200 is a highly ambitious target, a number that, if fully realized, could go far toward making the U.K. competitive in the global race.

  • The U.K.'s top universities and several high-profile companies have kept it in the running alongside the U.S. and China. But many U.K.-trained researchers end up working for American tech giants, such as Google's DeepMind.
  • "Well known Big Tech companies have been paying high salaries to attract people out of academia," says Adrian Weller, director of the AI program at the Alan Turing Institute, the U.K.'s national institute for data science and AI. "This is an attempt to redress the balance."

By the numbers:

  • The U.K. government says it will pay up to £110 million — about $144 million — for the training programs, and that private companies will chip in millions more.
  • The money will fund the education of 1,000 PhD students, and up to 200 master's students.
  • The Turing Institute will pay salaries of up to $114,000 for top academic researchers. This is a far cry from the hundreds of thousands in annual salary paid by big companies, and slightly lower than tenured faculty jobs in academia.

Go deeper: Today's announcement is part of the U.K.'s national AI plan, announced last year, which includes the equivalent of $1.3 billion in funding.

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