AI and quantum research at centre of UK science and tech announcements

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Artificial intelligence and quantum research were at the centre of science and technology announcements in the UK chancellor’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday.

The government will boost spending on computing power to develop AI by £500mn over two years to bring total planned investment to more than £1.5bn, said Jeremy Hunt.

The increase followed criticism of the £900mn allocated to AI computing in the March Budget as being too modest by international standards, with other countries planning to spend much more.

“It’s great to hear that the government will find a further £500mn over the next two years to fund further innovation centres to help make us an AI powerhouse,” said Rashik Parmar, chief executive of the British Computer Society.

At the same time, the government revealed five “moonshot missions” for its £2.5bn national quantum strategy.

They include developing UK-based quantum computers capable of running 1tn operations without making any errors — today’s fastest machines are capable of just a few hundred error-free operations.

It also aims to deploy “the world’s most advanced quantum network at scale, pioneering the future quantum internet”.

“It is much more than headline pledges, it’s a call to arms,” said Chris Ballance, chief executive of UK quantum start-up Oxford Ionics.

“The government is sending a clear signal of the UK’s unwavering commitment to becoming a leader in the quantum revolution.”

Elsewhere, the Autumn Statement provided £121mn to the UK space sector for a variety of infrastructure investments in Earth observation and communication technology.

Some of the money, with additional funding from aerospace company Lockheed Martin, will enable Northumbria University in Newcastle to set up a £50mn North East Space Skills and Technology Centre.

The pharmaceutical and biotech industries welcomed the promise of a £520mn investment in life sciences manufacturing from 2025-26, as well as changes to research and development tax credits that the government says will provide relief worth an additional £280mn per year.

“Increased flexibility in the tax relief scheme for R&D-intensive companies will make a meaningful difference to company growth, job creation and accelerating the delivery of new medicines to patients,” said Steve Bates, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association.

Looking at the Autumn Statement as a whole, Sarah Main, executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said: “I’m encouraged by the ideas that emerged. They show government thinking creatively about new ways to support science in the long term and seeding support across the breadth of the science economy.”

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