This will bring major technological advances in diagnosing and curing diseases, converting waste into fuel, navigating without satellites and many other areas a step closer.
One of the first major investments following the creation of the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) will help exploit and sustain the UK’s global leadership in these areas. To ensure it remains a developer and innovator of these technologies not just a consumer.
These platform technologies can be applied in multiple sectors and domains, including sectors yet to emerge.
Structured as a series of ‘technology missions’, this funding will enhance and exploit the UK’s global leadership in transformative technologies to tackle major global challenges such as:
- meeting net zero emissions targets
- healthy ageing
- energy security
Also, the approach will establish long-term capability in the technologies themselves, ensuring the science that built that leading position continues to push boundaries.
Partnering with industry
Encouraging partnerships between industry and academia is a key objective of the funding. It is anticipated that the £250 million will be matched by equal levels of private investment in pursuit of new capabilities, such as:
- diffusion and adoption of AI technologies in key sectors such as agriculture, construction and transport to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions
- demonstrating quantum advantage through growth of the UK quantum computing capabilities
- engineering biology to create revolutionary biomedicines and a healthier, more secure food system
These investments will help maintain and grow the UK’s international position in a highly competitive global market.
Success will attract diverse global talent and incentivise further private investment in the UK’s research and innovation system, ensuring greater UK advantage comes from the country’s strengths in science and technology.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI is a rapidly developing science which can be adapted in many ways, including allowing machines to perform tasks normally performed by human intelligence, especially when the machines ‘learn’ from data how to do those tasks.
AI is already transforming the global economy, drawing on vast datasets to perform complex tasks, such as enabling people to communicate across the globe using speech recognition and translation software. However, the full potential of AI is still far from being realised.
AI technology missions
Building upon the foundations of UKRI’s investments in AI and data economy, and helping to implement the National AI Strategy, the AI technology missions will deploy £110 million across these themes:
- reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2% by 2030 through developing and deploying advanced AI techniques in highly emitting sectors such as transport, energy and agriculture
- deliver trusted AI approaches in complex health data science contexts, increasing the use of AI in healthcare settings by 2030
- increasing productivity by 20% in low AI maturity sectors, such as agriculture, construction, transport and creative industries as part of UKRI’s parallel ‘BridgeAI’ programme
- an overarching investment in responsible and trustworthy AI. To ensure AI technologies supported through these missions reflect and support human and societal values, increasing public trust in AI and therefore encouraging greater AI technology adoption
Quantum technology (QT)
QT use quantum mechanics, how the universe works at an atomic and sub-atomic scale, to enable the creation of clocks that are more precise.
QT also enables the development of sensors that can detect objects below the ground surface, as well as to produce vastly increased computing power which, in turn, allows us to understand complex processes in new ways.
Quantum computers will impact financial services, logistics and the design of new materials and drugs. Quantum sensors will underpin autonomous vehicles that can work indoors and under water, and medical diagnostics.
Quantum technologies have the potential to impact our daily lives as well as accelerate economic growth.
In 2014 the UK launched a National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP). This was a partnership between government, academia and industry aiming to ensure the successful transition of quantum technologies from laboratory to industry and wider society and economic impact. It has amassed over £1 billion in public and private investment during its first 10 years.
The QT missions build on this foundation with £70 million of investment to:
- accelerate quantum technologies for resilient capabilities in position navigation and timing (PNT). This will lead to the demonstration of mature proof-of-principle prototypes by 2025 in environments where traditional satellites cannot reach, creating resilience in military and civil contexts
- developing quantum computing test-beds: demonstrating the advantage of a quantum computer over a classical one through applications to underpin the growth of a UK quantum computing sector capable of delivering quantum advantage in 2025
Engineering biology uses engineering principles to re-design biological systems to create transformative improvements across many industries.
For example, the re-programming of stem cells for use as medicines or turning living cells into ‘biofactories’ that produce greener chemicals, medicines and biofuels.
As well as enabling cheaper and greener products, engineering biology can dramatically transform manufacturing processes that underpin existing industries. This will help lessen dependence on fossil fuels.
Engineering biology missions
Building upon UKRI investment that established a network of Synthetic Biology Research Centres across the country, the engineering biology missions deploy £70 million to connect industry and researchers to prove bio-based solutions to societal problems.
Specific focus areas include:
- food systems: delivering a more productive, sustainable and secure agriculture and food sector through innovative breeding tools and technologies for crops and farm animals
- biomedicine: delivering new therapies and diagnostics that will provide alternative treatments for complex diseases
- clean growth and the environment: delivering less carbon-intensive and more environmentally sustainable manufacturing processes, for example the manufacture of in-demand chemicals from waste
An exciting opportunity
Minister of State at the new UK Department of Science Innovation and Technology George Freeman MP said:
We are in a global race for investment and leadership in the science, technology and innovation of tomorrow.
For 40 years we have led the science and then lost the industrial investment to competitors. No more. That’s why the Prime Minister has secured the historic 30% uplift in Government research and development spend, and established the new department and Cabinet lead on science and tech.
It’s also why we have launched this £250m fund to convert our world-leading research and development in these transformational technologies of AI, quantum and engineering biology, into billion-pound industries.
These technologies are key to tackling major global challenges, from discovering new cures to the diseases of ageing to reducing net zero emissions and harnessing cells as factories for new biofuels. This is an exciting opportunity for UK science.
Technology to transform
Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Executive Chair, said:
These deep technologies will transform and improve many aspects of our economy and daily life. Their successful and ethical adoption will make a major contribution to sustainable growth, combating climate change, and improving quality of life for all.
The UK has clear research and innovation strengths in these technologies, but others are hot on our heels, so there’s no time to lose.
This funding will consolidate and improve the UK’s potential for economic advantage in these areas, including new, well-paid, high-quality jobs for the next generation.
Funding opportunities for industry, researchers and others through this investment are available throughout 2023 and into next year as well. All funding will be awarded and managed by UKRI on behalf of UK government.
Top image: Credit: solarseven, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images