The takeaways from London Tech Week

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By Cliff Saran Managing Editor

Deciphering the politician soundbites during London Tech Week shows that both the Tories and Labour are headed by party leaders who want to be seen as supporters of artificial intelligence (AI).

But beyond both being in agreement over the significance of AI, there are clear differences in what Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer believe are important – and what, ultimately, will resonate with voters.

There is general consensus over AI’s role in streamlining workflows across the public sector, healthcare and business. The battleground and where Sunak and Starmer differ, is in their sentiment toward AI safety. The government’s stance is pro-business, pro-innovation. Sunak says his government is “ building a new partnership between our vibrant academia, brilliant AI companies, and a government that gets it.”

Starmer took part in a fire-side style chat/interview on the second day of London Tech Week, where he was quizzed on AI risks and opportunities. Starmer believes a “staggering percentages” of jobs are at risk from AI and wants policymakers to be clear about what is being done about the jobs risk posed by AI.

The Tories want to be seen as being hard on immigration, but the government recognises the need for AI experts and other so-called “high potential” and “global talent” individuals to come and work in the UK. This, combined with a pro-innovation tax regime, may encourage the development and deployment of AI systems, built and operated at lower cost, that automate vast swathes of the workforce.

Starmer and Labour regard this as an area of concern for voters. But neither the Tories or Labour have a sound policy on giving existing workers the skills they need to compete in a world that is quickly becoming dominated by AI.

While the two main political parties in the UK prepare the battle lines for a general election, the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act passed a significant milestone on the road to legislation. Margrethe Vestager, who leads the EU’s strategy on AI, believes there needs to be a balance between innovation and ensuring people’s fundamental rights are being protected. The proposed legislation is not really about protecting jobs; nor is it, strictly speaking, pro-innovation. It is, however, set to have as much of an impact globally as GDPR.

Given the currency economic climate and wage inflation, AI is seen by many as the logical way forward to enable businesses to reduce operating costs. There is no doubt that AI will be deployed in a way that reduces headcount. No one knows for certain to what extent this will happen and how damaging it will be to the country’s economy long-term. But these are the issues political leaders need to start addressing right now, before it’s too late.