The UK will spend £100 million to develop its own 'sovereign' AI

The country aims to rival AI models like ChatGPT.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

The UK government doesn't want to sit idle while foundational AI models like ChatGPT flourish. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan have pledged an initial £100 million (about $124.5 million) to establish a Foundation Model Taskforce. The team will develop AI that ideally makes the country "globally competitive," and will work with the industry to make these systems safer and more reliable.

The taskforce is inspired by the COVID-19 vaccine unit from the height of the pandemic. The group will report directly to both the Prime Minister and Technology Secretary, and have a chairperson announced this summer. The funding comes alongside roughly £900 million ($1.1 billion) in the UK budget devoted to both an exascale supercomputer and dedicated AI research resources.

Officials aren't shy about their hopes. The UK wants to have "sovereign" AI technology that spurs the economy while avoiding the ethical and technical pitfalls that have led experts to call for a six-month pause on experiments. Such models can sometimes be inaccurate or exhibit strange behavior, such as refusing to answer questions or even criticizing users. Donelan sees trustworthy AI as an edge in the field that can help create medical treatments, aid public services and fight climate change.

To some degree, the UK already has a major presence in AI. Google's mainly London-based DeepMind team produces cutting-edge AI research, for instance. However, the hottest systems in recent memory have been developed elsewhere — ChatGPT is the work of US-based OpenAI. The taskforce theoretically keeps British AI relevant despite this trend toward foreign-born technologies.