On February 24, 2022, the ARIA Bill received Royal Assent, giving birth to Britain’s own version of DARPA – the innovative US government technology agency credited with inventing the internet and GPS. With a budget of at least £800m for the first four years and having recently secured the services of the Deputy Director of DARPA as its first Chief Executive, it will be interesting to see how things develop.
ARIA’s mission is to focus on “ambitious” research projects with a high tolerance for failure, as well as to translate basic science research into commercial technologies – which, as the FT recently pointed out , has not always been one of the strong points of the United Kingdom.
The legislation is silent on the specific areas of research that ARIA will pursue, although it does allow the government to provide guidance”in the interest of national securitySimilarly, the government’s first guidance document published in March 2021 highlights that the main concern was how research is traditionally funded and that “[l]Like many other research funding agencies, ARIA will not be tied to a single research focus, industry or ‘client’ service.“
Nonetheless, it is hoped that particular attention will be given to one of the UK’s greatest strengths – its life sciences sector. The UK’s leading role in the Covid-19 vaccination project, as well as the highest level of venture capital investment in Europe, demonstrates the potential in this area. Additionally, access to the UK’s National Health Service could be a ready-made resource for the development of breakthrough AI and other “big data” analytics projects.
The bill seeks to create a new research funding agency aimed specifically at providing long-term support for “high-risk, high-reward” “blue sky research”. In the March 2020 budget, the Chancellor announced that the UK government would invest “at least £800 million” in this new agency as part of the government’s wider commitment to increase public funding for research and development (R&D) to £22 billion by 2024-25. and increase overall UK spending on R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.