AI, 5G, driverless cars on the government's tech agenda

UK government announces all the tech investments in next year's budget, including artificial intelligence, electric vehicles and more computer science teachers.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read
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The British government is pouring billions of pounds into a number of technology initiatives, including AI, 5G, driverless cars, electric vehicle adoption and more computer science teachers for schools.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond made the announcements on Wednesday as part of the autumn budget, which lays out the government's spending plans for the next year.

"The world is on the brink of a technological revolution, one that will change the way we work and live and transform our living standards for generations to come," said Hammond. "For the first time in decades Britain is genuinely at the forefront of this technological revolution."

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Hammond announced £500 million of funding for artificial intelligence , 5G and full fibre broadband. This will be complemented by £2.5 billion to help businesses grow to scale and hopefully find the UK's next tech unicorn.

"A new tech business is founded in Britain every hour, and I want that to be every half hour," said Hammond.

Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at price comparison site uSwitch, said many will find the investment reassuring. "The Government has today reiterated its commitment to 5G and fibre rollout, something that will no doubt act as reassurance for those keen to see the UK's digital infrastructure boosted," he said.

Driverless and electric vehicles

Hammond declared that he sees driverless cars as the future.

"I know Jeremy Clarkson doesn't like them," he said. "Sorry Jeremy, but this is definitely not the first time you've been snubbed by Hammond and May."

Intel research estimates the economy created by autonomous driving will grow from $800 billion to $7 trillion globally, as fully autonomous vehicles become mainstream, according to spokeswoman for the company. "By committing to adapt driving regulations, the UK economy will begin to witness this change and the benefits of this autonomous movement in as few as 4 years," she said.

But paving the way to getting them on the road will be another technology, said Hammond. "Our future vehicles will be driverless, but they'll be electric first," he said.

Investment in electric vehicles includes £400 million for charging infrastructure fund, an extra £100 million in Plug-In-Car Grant, which subsidises purchases of electric vehicles, and £40 million in charging R&D.

Tech in schools

Hammond wants every secondary school student in the country to be able to get access to computer science lessons, so he pledged to triple the number of qualified teachers to 12,000.

He also said the government will work with industry to create a National Computing Centre, although he didn't expand on what its role will be.

Cindy Rose, UK CEO of Microsoft, welcomed the news. "There is an urgent need for the UK to tackle its digital skills gap and use technology to nurture the creativity already present in the next generation," she said in a statement.

Hammond also linked a £40 million investment in training more maths teachers with more jobs in tech.

"Knowledge of maths is key to the high-tech, cutting edge jobs in our digital economy," he said. "More maths for everyone -- don't let anyone say I don't know how to show the nation a good time."

Internet on trains

Finally, the Chancellor has clearly been struggling to get internet on trains along with the rest of the British public. He's providing £30 million to trial new solutions to improve mobile and digital connectivity on trains on the TransPennine route.

"This could have the added benefit of boosting productivity, removing that all too frustrating digital void that leaves thousands of commuters unable to work as they head into the office," said Doku.

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