31 Oct 2019   |   News

Lib Dems would double innovation investment

Jo Swinson, leader of the UK’s Liberal Democrat party, pledges ethical AI, R&D tax credits and better access to finance for start-ups led by women, as election campaign gets underway

Photo: Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats are promising to double innovation spending and make the UK the most tech-inclusive place in Europe, if they win the forthcoming general election.

First to the stump after the UK parliament finally agreed to a December 12 poll, Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat leader said on Wednesday if the party gets into government it would allow companies to claim back the costs of cloud computing software and large database purchases, as part of a broader R&D tax credit system.

She also promised more money for the innovation agency Innovate UK and said she wants to improve access to finance for women-led companies. “Less than one per cent of investor funding goes to start-ups run by women currently,” Swinson said.

In addition, artificial intelligence (AI) would be developed to the highest possible ethical standards, with the general public deciding how public services make use of the technology. “The promise of AI to liberate humans is tantalising but it shouldn’t blind us to the risks,” said Swinson. “We will convene a citizen’s assembly to decide when public services should use AI.”

There will also be a ban on the police using facial recognition software until legislation is put in place to regulate it. And to help citizens make a meaningful contribution, there will be a national digital literacy target for the population and an annual report on progress.

Swinson said AI developers have to be careful that they don’t introduce biases, giving the example of Amazon scrapping an AI recruitment tool in 2015, when the company realised it penalised women candidates.

The election comes after Brussels extended the UK's divorce deadline to 31 January 2020.

Although the official election campaign doesn’t begin until next week, party election machines swung into action immediately.

The Lib Dems are out to stop Brexit and hope this message to voters will see the party increase its current tally of 19 MPs.

Setting out the party’s plans for research at the Wired Smarter conference in London, Swinson argued that being in the EU gives the UK more heft when dealing with giant tech companies.

“Membership of the EU means that we are part of a market of 500 million consumers, and the global tech giants have to pay [more] attention to the way they do things,” she said.

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