Britain is the best prepared country in the world for the looming artificial intelligence (AI) revolution - with New Zealand ranking ninth, a major new study today finds.

The UK is a pioneer in the field of robotics and has the digital skills and know-how to make the most of the technological change, researchers said.

The AI Readiness Index, by the Oxford Insights Team, put the UK in the top spot out of the world's 35 most advanced countries - beating the US into second place, the Daily Mail reported.

Canada came in third, South Korea came fourth while the Netherlands was fifth, according to the survey.

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Theresa May hailed the "welcome news that we are leading the world" but said she is determined Britain to "even more" to embrace AI.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock hailed the achievement and said Britain - the birthplace of the father of computing Alan Turing - is determined to keep its No 1 slot.

He said: "I'm delighted the UK government has rightly been recognised as the best in world in readiness for Artificial Intelligence.

"We know that AI is shaping the future, and we're absolutely determined to both make the most of its vast opportunities, yet also manage and mitigate the potential risks."


He added: "We must harness the power of the digital revolution for all mankind, so that it works for to improve people's lot in life.

"It's a big goal, and it's nice to receive the acknowledgement that we're doing something right."

There have been growing fears that the march of the robots will force humans out of jobs and cause mass unemployment in the UK.

A report by the accountancy firm PwC earlier this year warned that more than 10 million jobs in Britain could be lost as technological change sweeps through workplaces.

But today's report, which looks at how ready governments in the OECD are to embrace and make the most out of the growth of AI.

It looks at the digital skills, research and investment and quality of data different countries have to exploit the new technology.

Richard Stirling, chief executive of Oxford Insights, said: "The UK scored extremely well in measures such as public sector effectiveness and data availability, which will be extremely important in order to foster skilful government use of AI.

"We were very interested to see that the UK ranked above the USA, but it is important it is for the UK to stay ahead by supporting AI research, technologies and companies.

"Using AI to improve public services, as we have done with the Government Digital Service is a real area where the UK can lead, but competition is heating up quickly.

"Already, countries including China, the US, Russia and Canada have all announced big new investments in AI.

"The Government's new commitments in this space are welcome – but they may not be enough to keep us competitive over the next few years."

The findings come as minsters have vowed to pump more money into new technology.

Chancellor Philip Hammond last month pledged to get driverless cars onto British streets by 2021.

While Labour has also made a pitch to champion the rise of robots with deputy leader Tom Watson saying Britons should "embrace an android".

Speaking at the launch of a report on AI yesterday, he said that with proper investment automation could produce as many jobs as it destroys.

Top 10 robotics rankings

1. Britain
2. United States
3. Canada
4. Korea
5. Netherlands
6. France
7. Japan
8. Australia
9. New Zealand
10. Finland