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Microsoft to Invest in UK AI Infrastructure

  • January 7, 2024
  • 4 min read
Microsoft to Invest in UK AI Infrastructure

Microsoft is planning to invest $3.2 billion (around £2.5 billion) in the UK for artificial intelligence (AI) infrastructure and training. This marks the firm’s largest investment in the country since it started doing business here four decades ago. Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft, described the investment in a blog post, stating that, alongside the investment, the company would also give UK-based researchers and businesses prioritised access to its Accelerating Foundation Models Research program.

“This infrastructure investment,” he said, “will help to meet the exploding demand for efficient, scalable, and sustainable AI-specific compute power and the needs of the private and public sector waiting to take advantage of the latest cloud and AI breakthroughs.”

Microsoft also plans to make a multimillion-dollar investment to “train one million people with the skills they need to build and work with AI.” That would include initial training for unskilled workers hoping to enter the field of AI. “The program,” Smith said, “will focus on building AI fluency, developing AI technical skills, supporting AI business transformation, and promoting safe and responsible AI development and use.” The training, he added, will include “the first Professional Certificate on Generative AI” and will also offer follow-on and advanced training for industry professionals.

Any prospective trainer is expected to complete Microsoft’s “Responsible Generative AI” training, ensuring that they adhere to “the ethics and principles of developing AI solutions responsibly.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, celebrated the news in a blog post. The UK, according to Hunt, is leading Europe in AI with its endeavours in the field, providing nearly £3.7 billion to the block as well as employing over 50,000 people. He called this a “vote of confidence” for the UK. “The UK is the tech hub of Europe with an ecosystem worth more than that of Germany and France combined — and this investment is another vote of confidence in us as a science superpower.”

The investment from Microsoft was confirmed as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled £29.5 billion of investment into various innovative sectors, including tech, life sciences, renewable energy, housing, and infrastructure at the Global Investment Summit.

“The UK is already the leading European tech ecosystem,” the government says, “which last year was worth more than double Germany’s and three times as much as France’s. The UK’s AI sector also contributes £3.7 billion to the UK economy and employs 50,000 people across the country.”

To support research on AI, Microsoft also plans to extend its Accelerating Foundation Models Research (AFMR) program to include prioritised access to Graphics Processing Units (GPUs), crucial for machine learning and the development of AI models, for the country’s science and research community.

AFMR drives interdisciplinary research on AI alignment and safety, beneficial applications of AI, and AI-driven scientific research and discoveries, including in natural and life sciences. This hopes to harness “the power of AI to accelerate scientific discovery via multiscale multimodal data generation through prioritised access to Microsoft’s AI tools.” The program includes researchers from the UK’s top universities, including Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College, UCL, Bath, and Nottingham.

To support UK workers, Microsoft also has plans for a multi-million-pound investment to train as many as one million people with the skills they need to build and work with AI, including expanded training for people looking to start or transfer to a career in the sector. The program will work in partnership with multiple learning and non-profit partners and focus on “building AI fluency, developing AI technical skills, supporting AI business transformation, and promoting safe and responsible AI development and use, including the first Professional Certificate on Generative AI.”

The announcement comes as the Chancellor announced plans for an additional £500 million into advanced computing for AI at the Autumn Statement. This brings the government’s total planned public investment to over £1.5 billion. This hopes to provide the country with the infrastructure needed to “create a world-leading AI ecosystem” where scientists and researchers “continue to make extraordinary new discoveries, benefiting all of society, and making the UK the best place in the world to start and grow an AI start-up,” according to the government.

“Microsoft is one of the founding fathers of modern technology, and today’s announcement is a turning point for the future of AI infrastructure and development in the UK,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said. “The UK started the global conversation on AI earlier this month, and Microsoft’s historic investment is further evidence of the leading role we continue to play in expanding the frontiers of AI to harness its economic and scientific benefits.”

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Emma Trehane

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