UK plans to launch ‘high-risk, high-reward’ research agency

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LONDON — The U.K. government is planning to set up a new agency to support the development of new technologies.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced on Friday that the Advanced Research and Invention Agency will fund “high-risk, high-reward” scientific research in the hope of achieving “groundbreaking” discoveries. It is due to be fully operational next year.

It said the agency will be given £800 million ($1.1 billion) to help “the most inspiring inventors” over the next four years, which is a relatively small amount compared to other government research agencies, such as U.K. Research and Innovation.

The U.K. government’s R&D budget for 2020-2021 alone is £10.36 billion.

ARIA will operate independently of government and be led by visionary researchers, the government said, adding that it will be looking for an interim CEO and chair in the coming weeks.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in a statement: “From the steam engine to the latest artificial intelligence technologies, the U.K. is steeped in scientific discovery. Today’s set of challenges – whether disease outbreaks or climate change – need bold, ambitious and innovative solutions.”

He added: “By stripping back unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency will be given the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow, as we continue to build back better through innovation.”

Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific advisor, said in a statement that the importance of scientific innovation has been made clear over the last year, adding that ARIA provides an “exciting new funding mechanism.”

Dominic Cummings, a former senior advisor to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, liked the idea of trying to create a U.K. version of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which used to be called ARPA.

According to the Financial Times, Cummings’s WhatsApp handle still reads: “Get Brexit Done, then Arpa.” However, the newspaper states that he’s not in the running to be the agency’s CEO, citing government officials familiar with the matter.

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