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To many working within the UK technology sector, Tuesday’s announcements from Downing Street carried with them a sense of inevitability regarding the fate of DCMS, in that while its function has been admirable since formation, the union of all things digital with the respective fields of culture, media and sport, always felt more like a marriage of convenience than true love.
The newly created Department of Science, Innovation and Technology meanwhile, combining all things ‘Digital’ in DCMS with the science and technology remits from BEIS, feels organically well positioned to fulfil its mandate of improving UK R&D investment and bolstering growth in UK science and technology (as well as aligning neatly with the outcomes of the Vallance Review announced in the October budget on the need to improve digital infrastructure and investment in technology).
The new Secretary of State for ‘DSIT’ is Michelle Donelan, providing a neat transition for the department following her tenure as Secretary of State for DCMS, while the new Permanent Secretary will be Sarah Munby, providing consistency for the elements of DSIT being brought in from BEIS.
Reading between the lines, the impact on the world of AI is likely to be a shift for the government toward focusing on growth, skills, research and science, over the previous emphasis from recent administrations on AI risks and governance. As a business building what our CTO calls “practical AI”, R² Factory will watch this shift in direction with interest, in the hope it helps to develop best-in-class data science talent in the UK, keeping the market competitive with other regions.
Reading the tea leaves, DSIT’s priorities are likely to include both legacy DCMS and BEIS priorities, as well as its own, including R&D investment, Innovation Accelerators and AI strategy, while its legislative responsibilities are likely to include the Electronic Trade Documents Bill, and the forthcoming Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. Its responsibilities over agencies and bodies too is wide-ranging, including a range of institutions from the Met Office to the UK Space Agency.
Practically, a further implication of this change for AI and machine learning policy could be delays to the much-anticipated AI white paper, though since this was previously sitting under Ms Donelan in her remit at DCMS, there is unlikely to be a significant disruption.
We at R² Factory would like to join others in congratulating Ms Donelan on the new position and look forward to working with the DSIT on discussing the future of digital intelligence and machine learning in the UK toward an innovative (and safe) future.