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The Foreign Office and the newly minted Department for Science, Innovation and Technology have announced an international technology strategy to promote the UK abroad.
The announcement said the UK will be “open, responsible, secure and resilient” in determining technology strategy.
“Now more than ever, it is important that the UK steps up to promote British tech excellence worldwide and takes a stand against the malign influences that seek to use tech against us,” said foreign secretary James Cleverly. “That is why we’ve announced this strategy, helping to deliver on our ambition to be a tech superpower by 2030.”
Technology secretary Michelle Donelan said: “We are a top-class breeding ground for emerging tech, but being a superpower means working with our international partners to turn these nascent technologies into global industries. Our international tech strategy will ensure we deepen collaboration with our allies on the technologies of tomorrow, driving growth and prosperity for the UK while strengthening our national security.”
The government is to appoint some “tech envoys” and will set up a Technology Centre of Expertise to promote the UK abroad.
The policy document states that technology will also be included in free trade agreements, such as those with Australia and Japan.
A key idea is to use technology as a tool of diplomacy. There is a British tech envoy to the US, Joe White, a former co-founder of Moonfruit.com, based in San Francisco. He will be joined by tech envoys to Europe and the Indo-Pacific region.
The government will, it said, launch a new “Technology Centre of Expertise” to share the UK’s “world-leading expertise with partners in developing countries, supporting them to make informed choices on the development and use of technologies in line with our shared principles”.
According to the government statement, the UK tech sector was worth $1tn in 2022, boasting more than 85,000 startups and scaleups. It claims that more investment was generated in the UK technology sector in 2022 than in France and Germany combined, and that the UK is third only to the US and China in the value of its IT sector.
In the foreword to the policy paper that lies behind the announcement, Donelan refers to the recent refresh of the government’s security, defence, development and foreign policy priorities, the Integrated review. She writes, in the technology strategy document: “The Integrated review 2023 reiterates our commitment to science and technology to drive growth and ensure the security of the British people. My department will oversee the UK Science and Technology Framework, which sets out our overarching approach and vision. Now this International Technology Strategy provides the vehicle to deliver the UK’s technology ambition on the world stage.”
Cleverly writes: “The tech sector is … a national asset that gives us an economic and strategic edge. We are proud to be Europe’s top tech investment destination and home to the fourth-largest number of tech unicorns in the world.”
Priority technologies for the government include artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing and semi-conductors, as well as engineering biology. The latter is described as applying engineering principles to the design of biological systems, building on synthetic biology, which is the design and making of biological components and systems that do not exist in nature. Engineering biology is said, in the document, to “raise important legal, regulatory, ethical and security considerations, posing a complex foreign policy challenge in balancing economic and social benefits with risks”.
With respect to AI, the policy document hails what it describes as the UK’s “thriving AI ecosystem and world-leading research and development. We are a hub for private sector and leading research institutes, ranking third in the world for AI publication citations per capita. Internationally, we are a partner of choice, as reflected by the US-UK Declaration on Cooperation in AI R&D and AUKUS, the enhanced trilateral security partnership signed in 2021 between Australia, the US and the UK”.
Regarding quantum, the document states: “The UK’s ambition is to become a global centre of excellence for QT, shaping the global future of these technologies to harness responsibly the opportunities they can bring. We are home to many world-leading quantum startups, through an ecosystem supported since 2014 by the National Quantum Technologies Programme. To drive further development, the UK is growing our international partnerships in quantum, such as through the UK-US Quantum Statement of Intent signed in 2021.