The public sector should use targeted procurement to boost the development and deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) in the UK, according to Lords.
In a report, the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence said the UK was “in a strong position to be among the world leaders in the development of artificial intelligence” and the technology, if “handled carefully”, could solve complex problems and improve productivity.
In evidence, the committee was told the use of AI across government departments and the public sector could save an estimated £4bn a year and “enable more informed policy decisions”.
The report said the government’s annual spend of £45bn on goods and services gave it “immense power in encouraging the adoption of new behaviours and practices in its supply chains”.
The report said Brexit provided an opportunity to alter EU public procurement rules “to ensure that these rules and thresholds benefit businesses in the UK, in particular when it comes to public sector procurement and the stimulation of a fertile AI development sector, as long as it is still a competitive process”.
The report mentioned the GovTech fund, a £20m pot over three years designed to support public bodies buying innovative products. Secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport Matt Hancock told the committee: “Most of GovTech is about procurement. Indeed, getting procurement rules right is one of the most important parts of driving improvements in technology through government, because you need the leadership and the permission from the top to drive the change.”
The report said the government should be “bold in its approach to the procurement of artificial intelligence systems”, while an online bulletin board should be established to advertise public sector challenges where there is the potential for “innovative tech and AI-based solutions”.
The report warned the jobs market will change and there will be a need for education and retraining. There is also a need to prevent large companies with vast quantities of data becoming overly powerful.
“To ensure greater uptake of AI in the public sector, and to lever the government’s position as a customer in the UK, we recommend that public procurement regulations are reviewed and amended to ensure that UK-based companies offering AI solutions are invited to tender and given the greatest opportunity to participate,” said the report.
“The Crown Commercial Service… should review the Government Service Design Manual and the Technology Code of Practice to ensure that the procurement of AI-powered systems designed by UK companies is encouraged and incentivised, and done in an ethical manner.”
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.