In every era, when a big new technology is invented we are challenged to think fresh about how to make it work for us, in a way that improves the quality of people’s lives.
Just as new technologies can bring great benefits, they also can throw up risks.
It’s no different with digital technology. Britain has seized the huge opportunities of the growing tech industry. We have become the undisputed European hub, with twice as much investment in tech as any other European country, and a new record £5.6bn investment in tech in London in the past six months.
New technologies have created 3.5m new jobs since 2001, spread right across the country. Last year, more than two thirds of UK tech investment was outside London, which helps maintain our position as a world leader.
Today, we are a world-leading digital economy with particular strengths in artificial intelligence, fintech, govtech, gaming, and cyber security.
London has, for instance, more people working in fintech than any other city in the world, standing at 44,000 in 2016, and the UK’s cyber security workforce has grown by 160 per cent since 2011.
And the most exciting developments in our creative industries – one of our greatest strengths – are being driven by advances in technology such as virtual reality to produce ever more exciting film, TV and music.
The UK: Tech hub of the world
We should take it as a compliment that other countries are copying many of our ideas. We should also welcome it. Stronger digital growth in Paris, Tel Aviv and Lisbon benefits the UK. Today, I’m visiting Station F, the new startup hub in Paris similar to those in Britain, in Manchester, London, Edinburgh and elsewhere.
Some people say we should see French efforts to modernise their economy and build a digital hub as a threat. I don’t agree. When our neighbours and allies grow, it benefits us all. It is not a zero sum game, and I look forward to working with my new French counterpart on what we can do to make both of our digital industries stronger.
Elsewhere, we have established the UK-Israel Tech Hub which, since its creation in 2011, has supported deals between the UK and Israel worth £62m. We are now extending the model to boost trade around the world.
That is more important than ever as we leave the EU.
We are determined to ensure the UK is the best place to start and grow a digital business.
Britain has one of the most pro-business governments on the planet, because we understand that it is businesses large and small that create prosperity, and that business, done right, is a force for good in the world. Business creates jobs, helps pay for our public services, and ultimately thrives by solving other people’s problems.
That’s why history has proved – as the Chinese have recently discovered – that market economies are the best way ever invented to improve the condition of the people.
So we will continue to build Britain as a base for digital business. Our Digital Strategy sets out our plan – how we can deliver the skills the new jobs need, how we can support the digitisation of wider industry, and how we can get the data rules right.
Getting the infrastructure right is critical too. Everyone should have access to decent broadband. This week, we announced £400m extra funding to roll out the next generation of full fibre broadband across Britain.
We know 5G has the potential to bring more reliable, ultrafast mobile connectivity, with quicker reaction times and larger data capabilities.
Today, I am announcing £16m development funding will go to King’s College London and the universities of Surrey and Bristol for a 5G project to bring together academic expertise and commercial leadership to ensure we stay at the front of the pack.
The project will trial and demonstrate the next generation of mobile technology and is the first part of a four-year programme of investment and collaboration in our 5G Testbeds and Trials programme.
As well as making the business environment as strong as possible, we need to bring the online environment up to date.
The Digital Charter, announced in the Queen’s Speech, will set out a new framework for how we interact and do business on the internet. It will strive to properly balance freedom and responsibility online, in the same way as we do offline.
If we can get all this right, we can be the global leader in shaping the rules for the internet age. We can make sure the UK remains the best country in the world to start and grow a digital business. We can keep our citizens safe online.
And, most importantly, we can ensure that all our citizens benefit from the technological revolution we are living through, with all the opportunities it presents.