Calling all, um, 'general AI' practitioners: Blighty needs you for public sector glory

Still seeking some general intelligent action


The UK government's procurement arm has floated the creation of a framework to allow public sector techies to buy something that hasn't been invented yet: artificial general intelligence, er... general artificial intelligence.

OK, so the wording in the prior information notice (PIN) from Crown Commercial Services is perhaps wilfully misinterpreted by El Reg. It is likely to mean AI in general, rather than sentient software that can do multiple tasks like a human and is but a distant reality.

The buying authority posted the document on Tenders Electronic Daily stating that it "intends to put in place a pan government collaborative agreement for the provision of artificial intelligence services".

The PIN for a "dynamic purchasing system" trumpets the intent to kickstart contact between AI suppliers and public sector buyers to get feedback on the commercial agreement's format.

In addition to, er, general AI, four others fall under the scope of the framework: discovery and consultancy work related to the use of AI in public services; development, implementation and support of AI in government; data analytics using AI; and writing and deploying intelligent virtual assistants and intelligent personal assistants.

The value of the resulting contracts that will be up for grabs by competing suppliers that get a place on the agreement is £90m, so small beans compared to some of the public sector's tech spending.

"The UK government is seeking to accelerate the uptake of artificial intelligence services by government departments," the tender states.

Central government departments and their agencies, as well as non-governmental departments, NHS bodies, local authorities, police, the voluntary sector, and charities will also be able to buy the services.

UK health secretary Matt Hancock was last year savaged by healthcare and privacy experts for threatening to spray £250m worth of taxpayers' cash into an AI laboratory for the NHS amid accusations he was using technology for technology's sake and vomiting soundbites without any real details. ®

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