The UK has been knocked from the top spot of a global ranking of countries whose governments are ready to capitalise on artificial intelligence technologies in public services.
The UK was narrowly beaten to the number one position by Singapore in this year’s Government AI Readiness Index, which the ranking’s authors described as a “timely reminder of the ongoing inequality of access to AI”. This is the second time the ranking has been produced, with the UK hgaving topped the leaderboard in the first iteration in 2017.
Technology consultancy Oxford Insights and the Canadian government-sponsored International Development Research Centre said the 2019 Government AI Readiness Index should prompt governments to “act to ensure that global inequalities are not further entrenched or exacerbated by AI”.
Unsurprisingly, the upper echelons of the ranking were dominated by higher-income countries with strong economies. Singapore and the UK were followed by Germany, the United States and Finland, with Sweden, Canada, France, Denmark and Japan making up the rest of the top 10.
The index scored governments across 11 metrics, divided into four broad categories: governance; infrastructure and data; skills and education; and government and public services.
“Emerging technologies offer a unique opportunity to improve the governments of the future, and citizens’ experience of government. As we enter the age of automation, governments must ensure that they are ready to capitalise on the potential power of AI,” the ranking’s authors said.
However, they warned that governments should adopt AI technologies with caution.
“If it is implemented without due care for ethics and safety, AI in public services could be at best ineffective, and at worst, very dangerous,” they wrote in a report accompanying the results.
“The purpose of assessing and scoring governments’ AI readiness is not to create or fuel a global race for AI. Rather, it is to help policymakers everywhere see where they are performing well, and in which areas they may wish to target their attention going forward.”
The UK’s position ahead of other European countries has been “cemented in part through a concerted policy effort around AI over the last year”, the report said, citing the AI sector deal, funding being made available for AI R&D, and last years House of Lords committee report on AI.
Each of these developments “emphasise the importance of robust thinking and policy around AI ethics”, it said.
The ranking was published a few days after the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced the members of its AI Council, which digital minister Margot James said today would “boost the growth and use of AI in the UK”.
The independent expert panel is intended to draw expertise from industry, academia and the public sector together to promote the adoption and ethical use of AI technologies.
Its members, announced last Thursday, include Ocado chief technology officer Paul Clarke, Alan Turing Institute chief executive Adrian Smith, UK Research and Innovation chief executive Sir Mark Walport and Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation board member Dame Patricia Hodgson.
Commenting on the ranking, James added: "AI is already having a positive impact across society – from detecting fraud and diagnosing medical conditions to helping us discover new music, and we're working hard to make the most of its vast opportunities while managing and mitigating the potential risks.”
The overall leader, Singapore, ranked highly because it was “paying heed to managing community concerns around AI”, according to the report.
In particular, the report’s authors were impressed by the government’s establishment of an AI ethics advisory council as part of its AI strategy, to “assist the government to develop ethics standards and reference governance frameworks, issue advisory guidelines, practical guidance and codes of practice for voluntary adoption by businesses”.
The ranking scores governments across 11 metrics, divided into four broad categories: governance; infrastructure and data; skills and education; and government and public services.
The index published today builds on the 2017 ranking, which examined 35 OECD countries. The 2019 ranking looked at 194 countries and used a wider range of source data for the exercise, its authors said.