London's technology powerhouse needs to look in the mirror and promise to do better

 
Russ Shaw
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More than half of London’s tech professionals feel the public perception of technology is at an all-time low (Source: Getty)

As Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the hot seat in the US Congress to provide evidence on the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the tech industry once again found itself under scrutiny, scorn, and suspicion.

Was this the death of the stereotype of the eternally optimistic and ambitious tech entrepreneur?

2017 was cited as the annus horribilis for tech with #DeleteUber, sexual harassment scandals, and fake news. However, this year is set to be even worse, with questions being asked about Silicon Valley’s continued gender problem, online extremist content, and election interference.

Read more: Zuckerberg says his data was in the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica breach

Cambridge Analytica has brought UK tech into what could previously have been dismissed as an American problem, and has forced us to look at our own diversity problems, tax evasion issues, and privacy legislation here.

The real question is whether technology, and the storming rate of change it brings, can be a force for good or whether it is an out of control threat that tramples democracy, diplomacy, and common courtesy.

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of Tech London Advocates, we asked our community of 6,000 tech leaders about this very issue. More than half of London’s tech professionals felt the public perception of technology was at an all-time low, but 89 per cent thought tech was having a positive social impact on London. This is the entrepreneurial mindset in a nutshell – things aren’t right at the moment, but we can make them better.

No one denies technology doesn’t have serious problems it needs to address – around the representation and treatment of women and different ethnicities, responsibilities around privacy and security, and the impact of automation on the employment landscape – but technology can drive efficiencies, reduce costs, and empower users at the same time.

This is one of the reasons why London is such a hotspot of tech innovation. London is defined by its capacity for reinvention, adapting constantly to new ideas, new ways of thinking and, indeed, new technologies. It is a melting pot of talent and embraces Oyster cards, CityMapper, and Deliveroo faster than anywhere else. “Move fast and break things” could almost be the city’s motto.

The tech industry has been a key economic asset for the city, attracting record levels of investment from around the globe. The industry’s success has been transformative for the capital – ingenuity has been at the heart of the effort to reinvigorate the finance sector following the economic crisis, with the UK positioning itself as a fintech powerhouse. We cannot afford for this thriving industry to become the pariah of business.

Five years ago, I personally committed to do everything I could to champion London as a global tech powerhouse. I have watched Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony, read Susan Fowler’s blog on her sexual harassment at Uber, and seen accusations of tax evasion with shock and dismay.

However, my conviction in tech as a force for good, and an industry that London must nurture, has not dimmed. I firmly believe that tech creates jobs, improves infrastructure, attracts world-class talent, and celebrates creativity in ways that benefit our citizens, city, and country.

So, now is the time for everyone working in technology in the UK to prove it. Tech London Advocates has published 10 objectives for London tech to achieve by 2023 in order to truly establish the city as a global tech superpower.

These include reaching a tech workforce with 33 per cent women, tech companies committing one per cent of their profits to social and community initiatives, and the creation of a Secretary of State for Digital at Cabinet level to introduce regulation that understands and supports technology.

Tech needs to celebrate the positive impact it can have, but also treat 2018 as the year it took a long hard look at itself, and promised to be better. If London tech can be recognised as standing for profit, alongside social responsibility, it will attract all the international talent and investment it needs to keep building its dominance as a global tech powerhouse.

Read more: Tech companies choosing the City over Silicon Roundabout

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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