Seizing the Opportunities of AI in Government

Deputy PM speech to government training conference on programming, AI and data science

The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP

It’s great to be here, opening this sell-out event, and that was even before I was confirmed as a speaker.

It is one of the biggest hands-on technical upskilling events the government has ever hosted.

A historic event – and this is a historic moment in human history.

Because artificial intelligence is changing everything – the way we live and the way we work.

A big focus of the government has been on making sure those technologies are safe.

Many of you were involved in delivering the world’s first ever AI Safety Summit, which took place at Bletchley Park earlier this month.

But as well as the huge risks AI poses, there are also enormous opportunities - particularly for us in the public sector to transform productivity.

As the Chancellor said at the weekend, some public servants waste a whole working day each week on admin.

I’ve worked in government for many years and I know the frustrations.

You just want to get on with your work – but it isn’t that easy.

Stifled by systems.

Bogged down by bureaucracy.

Peed off by processes that haven’t changed in decades.

No wonder, as Jim Hacker says in Yes Minister, “it takes time [for the civil service] to do things quickly” and “it’s more expensive to do things cheaply”.

Well, all that can change – with the help of AI.

The potential productivity benefits from applying these technologies to routine tasks across the public sector are estimated to be worth billions.

The UK is already leading the way: ranked third in the Government AI Readiness Index and attracting £18 billion of private investment since 2016.

Traditionally, though, the public sector has not been the fastest adopter.

But with AI it doesn’t have to be that way.

We have the big data.

We have the large workforce.

We have the finest minds and the keenest beans and a government which is one hundred per cent behind this, driven by our Prime Minister.

So many sectors are embracing the opportunities and the benefits are being felt across society.

90 per cent of stroke units are now using cutting-edge AI tools.

Thousands of teachers have signed up to a pilot AI-powered lesson planner and quiz builder.

We’re bringing that spirit to Whitehall.

We’ve got civil servants upskilling through this One Big Thing initiative.

Earlier this month I announced we were trialling AI red boxes to reduce paperwork. An idea that sprung from an Evidence House hackathon which many of you in this room took part in.

And today I can unveil plans for a new, turbo-charged, ‘Incubator for AI’ team.

Job adverts go live today – on our new website - – to boost this team to an initial 30 people technical AI experts, programme managers, product managers and engagement specialists all working together to rapidly enhance the adoption of AI through a centre of excellence.

One of their first tasks will be to assess which Government systems have data curated in the right way to take advantage of AI and which systems need updating before that full potential can be harnessed.

I think of the potential of this work, from correspondence to call handling, from health care to welfare.

I don’t mean replacing real people with robots, or adding to the frustrations of dealing with government.

I mean removing the things that annoy people most in their dealings with officialdom – namely the time it takes to do things quickly.

Imagine that transformation from computer says no, to computer says yes.

And we can all be part of that – we all deal with digital and data in some way or another.

So let us, the civil service, be the early adopters.

Let us be the trailblazers.

Let Whitehall show the country – and the world – how it’s done.

The revolution has just begun.

Thank you.

Cabinet Office
The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP