Theresa May took centre stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos today, to reaffirm the UK’s commitment to technology and safety online.
In her speech, May made a promise that more is to be done to tackle extremist content online and ensure that the UK stays at the forefront of technology development. Artificial Intelligence (AI) was the first topic around the tech industry that May touched on. The Prime Minister praised the developments AI has produced and the work that it is enabling the UK to do.
“We are only just seeing the beginning of what AI can achieve. These are the kind of advances that we should want to see. Already the UK has been recognised as first in the world to bring AI into public service delivery. Seen new AI startup created in the UK created every week in the last three years,” May said.
To boost the UK’s technology footprint, May vowed to reinvest in these skills over the next few years to ensure the world-leading status is kept. Investing in such skills will bring 45million more PhD courses in AI to the UK, the Prime Minister said, aiming to encourage more investment over the years.
“We are absolutely determined to make our country the one to come to set up AI start-ups for the future. As we seize these opportunities we have to shape the change so it works for everyone, in jobs or daily lives. Already technology is changing the nature of workplaces. So we need to make sure employment law keeps pace with the technology.”
In response to May’s pledge against boosting AI skills, the technology experts believe that there is still more to be done in the area and the promise could fulfil the space.
Peter Pugh-Jones, Head of Technology, SAS UK & Ireland said: “A lack of applicable skills is also cited as one of the biggest concerns within the field (66%). For the UK to take a leading role in AI, the skills gap must be closed and there needs to be a greater understanding of the business value that AI can deliver.
“The UK’s strong tech start-up market means it’s well placed to lead the AI boom, and the technology is already here to deliver it. But the government must prioritise developing skilled workers before the balance of power shifts.”
In addition to investing more into the development of AI skills, May also announced the opening of an ‘Institution of Coding’. This will see universities, businesses and experts working together to train and retrain workers and students in the digital skills of the future. The consortium includes IBM, Cisco, BT and Microsoft alongside the government and 25 Universities such as UCL and the University of London.
The consortium is set to receive a £20m investment to tackle the skills gap, as May said it was a key part of the government’s efforts to drive up digital skills through the Industrial Strategy.
May said: “In the UK development of modern industry strategy is at heart of government agenda. We have a long-term approach for a stronger fairer approach to the economy. The key to this is channelling the power of government and business in partnership, to cease opportunities for tech to create high-quality well-paid jobs across the world. The good government can do is creating conditions where success businesses can emerge and grow and invest in the future of our nation.”
Responding to the significant investment in the area, the consortium responded positively to the investment promised by May.
Gavin Patterson, BT Group Chief Executive, said: ““We are particularly pleased that industry will have the opportunity to build on its work within the Tech Partnership. Digital skills are crucial to BT’s current and future success, but no company can fix the UK’s digital skills shortage on its own.
“By working together across industry and academia, the Institute of Coding will unlock access to a bigger and more diverse workforce, and support skills development for people at different stages of their careers.”
Kathryn Parsons, Founder of Decoded and Chair of the DfE Advisory Board, said: “I strongly believe the UK can be the best place for technology education in the world. This month London was named the top European city for tech investment and the UK’s digital sector is creating jobs twice as fast as the rest of the economy.
“We are a nation of entrepreneurs, problem-solvers; of collaborators, and the Institute of Coding marks a further investment in this heritage. It has the power to bring together education and business to ensure we have the skills to drive innovation and be a global leader in the fourth industrial revolution.”
The topic of Law enforcement brought Mrs May to discuss social media giants and doing more to protect users from unwanted content on their platforms.
In her speech, May outlined that a recent survey found 70% of respondents believe social media companies do not do enough to stop illegal or unethical behaviour on their platform or prevent the share of extremist content or bullying.
“Loss of trust is hugely damaging and is in all our interest to address it. In some areas that means new rules and legislation. The digital charter we are creating in the UK sets out principles of our approach, rights and responsibilities of the online world and to put it into practice. We seek to support digital businesses to secure the trust and public confidence that they need. Same rights people have offline should be protected online,” said May.
“Personal data should be respected and used appropriately. Protection should be put in place to keep people safe online, especially children. Social and economic benefits brought should be shared. Our determination is to make the UK a world leader in innovation-friendly regulation.”
A key influencer to improve the stance of social media giants is the investors backing them, according to the Prime Minister. May outlined that investors play a vital role in the decisions and actions of social media firms. With this influence, she urged them to do more to create a social impact to the companies they invest in. The Prime Minister said: “Technology themselves and investors and international partners need to play their part. Investors can make a big difference to ensure trust and safety issues are being properly considered and I urge them to do so.”
Investors are not the only impacting body to change the way social media companies operate, but the government themselves. May discussed how the UK government is playing a role in squashing the extremist content from platforms, making online a safer place for all to use.
“Companies simply cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery, or the spreading of terrorist and extremist content,” May said.
When the topic was formerly discussed, it was suggested that online platforms follow the same regulations that publishers do. However, May dismissed this as an option saying “it is not enough” and that the government needs to look at a legal liability that social sites have for posting on their sites.
She said: “Tech companies need to do more to step up to their responsibilities to deal with harmful and illegal activity. Companies simply cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery, or the spreading of terrorist and extremist content.
“We need to go further so that ultimately this content is removed automatically. These companies have some of their best brains in the world, should focus on meeting these social responsibilities.”
The Prime Ministers speech at Davos was positively welcomed by the tech sector, hoping that the government’s commitment will boost both skills and safety.
Julian David, techUK’s CEO said: “We welcome the scale of ambition in the Prime Minister’s Davos speech. The next generation of digital technologies including Artificial Intelligence present huge opportunities for jobs and investment in the UK and will make a real positive difference to people’s lives.
“The UK is already a global leader in AI and the Government’s clear backing for the sector through its industrial strategy will help to consolidate that leadership. However, the rapid development of powerful new technologies also raises new ethical questions. We are therefore pleased that the Government is pushing forward on our recommendation to set up a Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.
“This will help to develop a new framework to guide ethical innovation and good governance which are crucial for building public trust. The UK has an opportunity to be a world leader not just on technology development and but also ethics and governance.”