From education to employment

AI funding must benefit all or Britain will miss the boat again

Alex Warner

This article discusses Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s £500 million investment in AI innovation centres and the need for inclusive AI education.

Emphasising that AI impacts everyone, the author calls for strategies to ensure widespread understanding and participation, highlighting the risks of excluding diverse voices.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, in his Autumn Statement, dangled the prospect of some serious money to help Britain move forward in the race to take advantage of AI.  He said, “Building on the success of the supercomputing centres in Edinburgh and Bristol, I will invest a further £500m over the next two years to fund further innovation centres to help make us an AI powerhouse.”

Who could argue with that? 

It follows the good news announced by the Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, on the first day of the government’s AI Safety Summit, yards away from where I am writing this in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, of a £300 million investment for big AI research projects in Cambridge and Bristol.



But concentrating solely on centres of excellence and the elite individuals who work in them will be a huge mistake for Britain’s future.

AI will impact everyone’s lives

AI will impact everyone’s lives; in fact, it already is doing so without most of us even noticing.  Understanding this technology and its ramifications will quickly become an essential part of being able to function effectively in the modern world.  Training up only a tiny minority to be comfortable with it could have disastrous consequences.

We must ensure inclusive practices and diverse thinking and representation around AI.  The COVID inquiry has already shown that a lack of such diversity and inclusion can destroy lives and livelihoods.  We’ve heard evidence that the absence of women, of people with experience of free school meals, of the voices of ethnic minorities or care home workers or, dare I say it, people who understand Further Education, all contributed to terrible mistakes in policy making.

Centres of excellence or innovation benefit a minority

Yes, centres of excellence or innovation are great and necessary, but by definition they benefit a minority and exclude the vast majority.  However, we also need strategies to support the wider population.  We need to be able to nurture everyone’s understanding in their own trajectory.  And now is absolutely the time to act, when we are all starting from a similar position of ignorance.  By that I mean that we are all members of the first generation of large language model AI.   

Someone you hear speaking on the subject may well only be six weeks ahead of you in terms of their knowledge.  That doesn’t make them part of a gifted and talented elite that needs to be preferentially supported to learn more.  Instead, you need the help and direction to catch them up.  We need to make sure that we’re all developing together so we can become a nation of AI innovation.  How amazing would it be to be able to say that Britain was the most AI-savvy state on earth?

We already know what digital poverty in all its forms can mean in terms of disadvantaging the already disadvantaged.  Lockdown exposed the yawning chasm in connectivity that continues to blight young people’s life chances.  If you don’t have reliable broadband at home, along with a quiet place to study and an appropriate device to use, what chance do you have in the modern world?  We cannot make the same mistakes of exclusion yet again with AI.  Be in no doubt, it will have as big an influence on our futures as the advent of the internet or the mobile phone have done, and people will be left behind if we do not invest in them now.

By Alex Warner, Principal: Curriculum Innovation and Pedagogy at MK College Group

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