Rishi Sunak calls for urgency in building out UK tech

The UK prime minister used his speech during London Tech Week to discuss funding tech, attracting talent and AI safety

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Prime minister Rishi Sunak has called for the UK to act quickly to take advantage of “tectonic shift” in the technology landscape. Speaking at the launch of the 10th London Tech Week, he said: “We must act – and act quickly – if we want to retain our position as one of the world’s tech capitals.”

The prime minister used the speech to outline the opportunities artificial intelligence (AI) presents, as well as the need to ensure its development remains safe and responsible. He said the UK needs to harness innovation to become the best place for tech businesses to invest and grow, in turn growing the economy and creating jobs.

Sunak said his goal is to go further by making the UK the best country in the world to start, grow and invest in tech businesses, adding that the government has built a “pro-investment tax regime”, which has increased public research and development investment to record levels.

He also claimed that the UK’s visa system for international talent is one of the most competitive in the world. The government has introduced High Potential Individual, Global Talent and Scale-up Worker visas, which aim to offer routes designed to attract the best and brightest global talent. The government hopes these visa schemes will encourage academics and professionals to share their knowledge, skills and ideas in the UK, and make a positive contribution to the economy.

The prime minister used the speech to announce the launch of HSBC Innovation Banking, which combines Silicon Valley Bank UK with HSBC’s own expertise. The new operation aims to support a range of businesses, from early-stage growth ones to late-stage public and private corporates, and connect them with HSBC’s global capabilities, including investment banking, private banking and asset management services.

Discussing what he describes as the “extraordinary possibilities” of artificial intelligence, Sunak outlined the initiatives the government has underway to tackle AI safety. “We’re building a new partnership between our vibrant academia, brilliant AI companies, and a government that gets it,” he said.

Sunak sees three aspects to AI safety. The first is UK-based AI safety research, while the second area is global collaboration. Earlier this year, Sunak announced the UK would be hosting the first major global summit on AI safety later in 2023.

The third part of the UK AI strategy involves using artificial intelligence to improve people’s lives. Sunak said AI is a way to help the UK achieve the “holy grail of public service reform”, which will ultimately result in better, more efficient services.

“We’re already investing record sums in our capability, including £900m in compute technology and £2.5bn 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,” Sunak said.

Last week, Sunak and US president Joe Biden signed the Atlantic Declaration for a Twenty-First Century US-UK Economic Partnership, which covers collaboration between the two counties in areas such as semiconductors, quantum technologies and AI.

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