Edinburgh has scored the highest outside London in the SAS AI Cities Index 2023, which reveals the cities that are most likely to benefit from a growing commercial appetite for artificial intelligence.
The research is compiled from seven criteria, including AI-related job ads, the number of AI companies in the city, the number of tech meet-ups, and the value of InnovateUK funding granted in each area.
InnovateUK is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), dedicated to investing and supporting cross-sector business innovation. The organisation has just announced a new £50 million development fund for ‘responsible and trustworthy’ AI innovation in the UK.
Edinburgh received about £43.7m of InnovateUK funding for projects from 2022 up till 2025, according to SAS, with multiple grants worth millions of pounds to research projects at the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Napier.
The University of Edinburgh in particular has its own AI Accelerator programme which aims to nurture scale-ups focused in AI applications and commercialising research products.
Besides this funding, Edinburgh found its way to the top of the table as home to the highest number of courses that feature an AI element.
SAS combed through every course offered throughout UK universities in order to understand how AI is used in tech-based and non tech-based degrees.
Edinburgh had 57 courses with an AI component, with the next highest city being Birmingham, at 46.
The Scottish capital also has 82 AI companies in the city, but was beat out in this category b Birmingham with 83, and Manchester with 90.
Considering Edinburgh’s population sits over 553,000 and Birmingham has a population of over one million, Edinburgh’s position is quite remarkable. Manchester’s population is just under Edinburgh’s, making their AI company to population ratio the highest out of the three.
The availability of AI jobs on LinkedIn was also investigated, with Edinburgh sitting at second place with 372 jobs adverts at the time of the study. Cambridge was the highest, with 401 AI job adverts.
In the overall rankings, popular tech hubs like Cambridge and Oxford lost out to Edinburgh, coming in second and third due to their AI career opportunities, institutions based in the city and high life satisfaction, too.
The analysis also revealed which parts of the UK have seen the biggest growth in AI-readiness since the 2022 index was published last year. Newry, in Northern Ireland, came last in 2022, but has since risen from 74 to 25, a huge jump of 49 places
Leicester has also jumped from position 50 in 2022 to 13 in 2023, nearing the top 10. Inverness, Norwich and Wells all also made huge gains, a sign that the cities and their councils have implemented a number of actions to overhaul their AI-ready efforts.
However, the study has also shown which parts of the UK seem least prepared to utilise AI to its full potential – bottom of the list was Chichester, followed by Bangor and Dundee.
Glyn Townsend, Senior Director of Education Services at SAS EMEA said: “The UK has a goal to become a science and technology superpower by 2030. But as the industry grows at pace and generates thousands of jobs, who fills them when we’re in the midst of the digital skills gap? TechUK has reported that over half of UK firms identify accessing talent as their biggest challenge over the next 12 months.”
The Digital Poverty Alliance found that about ten million Brits lack basic digital skills, despite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying the UK has some of the highest digital literacy in the world.
“More and more careers require an element of data literacy, and so educators need to be well-versed in teaching people how to incorporate this into their subject areas along with, where necessary, data analytics and AI elements,” Townsend continued.
UK cities seem to still be catching up with the basics: a new campaign was launched just this May to boost digital skills in all primary schools, starting with simply providing students with computers.
Townsend insisted: “All cities – not just those that are the largest or most populated – need to be able to build, test and implement AI technologies. They need to create an ecosystem between institutions, research and commercial applications to develop and deploy future technology.
“While some cities have made huge gains since last year, our research still highlights large discrepancies between the most and least-prepared areas. Beyond just the digital and data literacy that some cities lack, there needs to be investment in regional AI Centres of Excellence and Incubation Hubs for new and emerging technology to fuel the future economy.”
For instance, Dundee ranked toward the bottom of SAS’s AI index, though the Tay Cities Region has continued to invest in promoting digital skills in the region. While certain cities catch up on broadband and digital adoption, they may get further behind in the AI race.