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With the frontpage headlines yet again focusing on Cabinet discord over the terms of Brexit, the Prime Minister sought to highlight the UK’s readiness to act as a hub for emerging technologies – this time for the artificial intelligence (AI) sector.

The PM used her keynote speech at Davos to discuss the opportunities and moral challenges presented by the rise of AI and tech in general. Theresa May detailed plans for the Centre for Data Ethics to outline guidance and consult on the regulation of AI and announced that the UK will join the World Economic Forum’s new council on AI.

These form part of wider efforts to position the UK as a global hub for AI. Indeed, the Government’s Digital Strategy commissioned Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Jerome Pesenti, Chief Executive of BenevolentTech to conduct a review of how industry and government can create the conditions for the AI industry to thrive in the UK.

The review, published last October, restated claims that AI could add an additional £630 billion to the UK economy by 2035. Detailed debates about ethics and trust were, however, beyond the Review’s remit.

The PM’s speech comes amid the French President Emmanuel Macron’s overt charm offensive to encourage tech companies to relocate to France and position himself as the de-facto leading voice of the EU, amid Brexit and Merkel’s continued political paralysis. Macron’s power play has led to some success with Google and Facebook announcing major investments in France.

Nonetheless the UK has always had a vibrant tech sector and has long been thought of as a sensible voice on tech issues from the tech community itself. The Prime Minister will hope to rely on this in the coming months, and as Brexit negotiations progress, to reassure the tech sector that the UK remains the place to be.


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