PM London Tech Week speech: 12 June 2023
The Prime Minister opened London Tech Week with a keynote speech
It’s great to be back at London Tech Week at what I think is a moment of huge opportunity.
We are an island of innovation.
But at a moment like this, when the tectonic plates of technology are shifting - not just in AI, but in quantum, synthetic biology, semiconductors, and much more - we cannot rest, satisfied with where we stand.
We must act – and act quickly – if we want not only to retain our position as one of the world’s tech capitals but to go even further and make this the best country in the world to start, grow, and invest in tech businesses.
That is my goal.
And I feel a sense of urgency and responsibility to make sure that we seize it, because one of my five priorities is to grow our economy.
And the more we innovate, the more we grow.
But this isn’t just about economics.
Like you, I believe that innovation is one of the most powerful forces for transforming people’s lives.
And right now, there is an opportunity for human progress that could surpass the industrial revolution in both speed and breadth.
I believe the UK can achieve this goal because we start from a position of strength.
We’ve created 134 unicorns in the last decade – third in the world, behind only the US and China.
We’re one of the most digitally literate societies in the world, with a higher percentage of STEM graduates than the US and 4 of world’s top 10 universities.
We’ve got extraordinary strengths in Fintech, cyber and creative industries and engineering biology – where from the Crick and the Biobank to DeepMind’s Alphafold we’re pushing at the boundaries of what is possible in health.
And the UK is the best place in Europe to raise capital with more invested in tech here than in France and Germany combined.
But today, I want to answer a simple question.
What’s the single most important reason innovators like you should choose this country?
The answer is leadership.
Do you trust the people in charge to really get what you’re trying to do?
With this government, and with me as your Prime Minister, you can.
Judge us – not by our words, but our actions.
It’s this government that’s building the most pro-investment tax regime, that’s increasing public R&D investment to record levels and that’s making our visa system for international talent one of the most competitive in the world.
We’re overhauling our listing rules to make it easier for companies to raise public funding, and changing our pensions rules to unlock new private capital.
And we’re changing the way government itself works.
I created a new department focused on science, innovation, and technology with a mission to do things differently - from bringing in world-leading experts to taking more risks in support of innovation.
And when the moment came, it was this government that acted to rescue Silicon Valley Bank.
So today, I’m proud to announce the launch of HSBC Innovation Banking the most significant global tech bank combined with HSBC’s firepower and headquartered here in the UK.
And of course, it’s the UK where Google chose to bring together its entire AI division under the leadership of a Brit – Demis Hassabis – at Google Deepmind.
And if our goal is to make this country the best place in the world for tech AI is surely one of the greatest opportunities before us.
As Chancellor, I doubled the number of AI scholarships because even back then I recognised the potential of AI as a general-purpose technology.
Now, with most things in life, the more you learn about them, the less magical they appear but the more we learn about frontier technologies like AI, the more they widen our horizons.
Already we’ve seen AI help the paralysed to walk.
And discover superbug-killing antibiotics.
And that’s just the beginning.
Combined with the computational power of quantum we could be on the precipice of discovering cures for diseases like cancer and dementia or ways to grow crops that could feed the entire world.
The possibilities are extraordinary.
But we must – and we will – do it safely.
I know people are concerned.
The very pioneers of AI are warning us about the ways these technologies could undermine our values and freedoms through to the most extreme risks of all.
And that’s why leading on AI also means leading on AI safety.
So, we’re building a new partnership between our vibrant academia, brilliant AI companies, and a government that gets it.
And we’ll do that in three ways.
First – we’re going to do cutting edge safety research here in the UK.
With £100 million for our expert taskforce, we’re dedicating more funding to AI safety than any other government.
We’re working with the frontier labs - Google DeepMind, OpenAI and Anthropic.
And I’m pleased to announce they’ve committed to give early or priority access to models for research and safety purposes to help build better evaluations and help us better understand the opportunities and risks of these systems.
Second – AI doesn’t respect traditional national borders.
So we need global cooperation between nations and labs.
Just as we unite through COP to tackle climate change so the UK will host the first ever Summit on global AI Safety later this year.
I want to make the UK not just the intellectual home but the geographical home, of global AI safety regulation.
And third, we’re going to seize the extraordinary potential of AI to improve people’s lives.
That’s why we’re already investing record sums in our capability including £900 million in compute technology and £2.5 billion in quantum.
And we’re harnessing AI to transform our public services from saving teachers hundreds of hours of time spent lesson planning to helping NHS patients get quicker diagnoses and more accurate tests.
AI can help us achieve the holy grail of public service reform: better, more efficient services.
So this is our strategy for safe AI:
To lead at home; to lead overseas; and to lead change in our public services.
All part of how we meet our goal of making this the best country in the world for tech.
And let me just conclude with this final thought.
I was recently looking through a collection held by the British Library.
And I saw a letter from Charles Babbage to the then-Chancellor, dating from the 1830s thanking him for funding his difference engine - the forerunner of the modern computer.
That was a decisive moment.
The British government broke with the conventions of the time, and for a decade, backed this breakthrough technology.
We’re at a similar moment today.
And I’m determined that when future researchers visit the British Library in 200 years’ time they will discover that this government, and all of us here in this room met this moment with the same courage, vision, and determination.