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UK Says Elite AI Squad Could Speed Up Asylum, Welfare Processes

(Bloomberg) -- The UK is hiring a “hit squad” of artificial intelligence experts which could speed up government processing of asylum, immigration and welfare claims, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said.

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The move is part of a plan by the Cabinet Office, which coordinates government departments, to make public services faster and cut civil service costs. The department proposes to employ between 20 and 30 experts in a so-called “incubator for AI,” at an initial cost of about £5 million ($6.2 million).

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“Welfare and tackling welfare fraud, looking at what we can do around the interface with the health service, and looking at what we could do around asylum and immigration processing are three obvious areas where we’ve tasked them initially,” Dowden told reporters on Monday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has sought to position the UK at the vanguard of both developing AI and establishing “guardrails” to curb its use for potentially nefarious purposes such as rigging elections. Earlier this month, he hosted a gathering of top industry executives and government representatives from around the world as he sought to chart a common approach to developing the technology.

While the summit last month served to highlight some of the dangers posed by AI, the UK government has also sought to underscore the technology’s potential to transform the economy, with benefits including its use in medical diagnoses. On Monday, Dowden suggested AI could help triage and assign claims depending on their complexity and ultimately shrink state spending.

“I’m a conservative, right? I want the smallest possible state and the best possible outcome,” he said, adding that AI is a “transformative tool to be able to enhance the pace of technology in a way that can help us deliver better outcomes with fewer inputs. And ultimately that should be able to save taxpayers money, which is what we’re all about.”

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