UK to challenge governments that use tech for ‘tools of oppression’

The UK government’s International Technology Strategy, unveiled Wednesday, is a roadmap for helping the country reach “tech superpower status” by 2030 and challenge foreign governments that use technology for “tools of oppression.”

The strategy outlines four principles — to be open, responsible, secure and resilient — and details  various priorities and actions, including international collaboration, to support the delivery of the UK’s Science and Technology Framework and establish a set of global technology-based partnerships to deliver “mutually beneficial” objectives.

The strategy’s priorities are aligned with the domestic focus areas of the newly created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), and include AI, quantum computers, semiconductors, engineering biology, telecommunications, and data.

In last week’s budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, announced that £2.5 billion of funding would be made available to support the government’s 10-year quantum computing plan, in an addition  to an AI sandbox to help innovators get cutting edge products to market and work.

In its Integrated Review Refresh that was published last week, the government said that authoritarian regimes are using technology as a tool of oppression. As part of the International Technology Strategy, the government aims to challenge these regimes by expanding its tech diplomacy network and creating more tech envoys.

Envoy to boost collaboration with Silicon Valley

The first envoy has already been appointed to help boost the UK’s ties with tech companies in Silicon Valley.

“Technology has always been about collaboration, and collaboration with international partners who have values that align with our own will be essential to the future of global technology as well as our own domestic technology landscape,” said Niamh Eadie, CEO of Professional Plus Solution, a company that provides tech and consulting solutions to global law firms.

 The UK’s current reliance on foreign semiconductor technology continues to hamper growth in the country’s homegrown technologies, Eadie added. Despite this, she acknowledged that the UK already has a strong tech industry and this strategy will help to further attract foreign investment into the UK, with a focus on technology.

“The spillover effects on industries such as logistics, transportation and construction will create a more diverse economy,” Eadie said. “Exporting tech products and services from the UK will help to increase the UK’s balance of trade.”

Work with OECD to enhance international ties

Other collaborative measures in the International Technology Strategy include working with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Global Forum on Technology to engage with the international community on how to better use technology and keeping its seat on the Council of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to provide leadership in the telecom sector.

The Technology Centre of Expertise, which was set up in October 2022, will also be called upon to bring together tech and digital experts from government, private sector, and academia to help countries drive innovation in a “sustainable and inclusive manner.”

After years of rhetoric with little substantive vision and change from the top, it’s nice to see a coherent and well-thought-out strategy for the UK government specifically on technology, said Ashleigh Ainsley, co-founder of Colorintech.

However, he noted that he would have liked to see the strategy go further, to include an acknowledgement from the government that it should not take the UK’s current skills mix for granted, and to deepen collaboration with the Department for Education.

“Skills and the cost of labor consistently rank as one of the private sector’s biggest issues in an internationally competitive labor market,” Ainsley said, adding that he would have also liked a commitment from the government about making sure the sector is accessible for the diverse communities around the UK and the world.

He also questioned the lack of detail in some parts of the strategy, including the point about “ethics and values” which somehow assumes consensus among a diverse tech and political community.

“Without clearer definitions, it will be hard to make headway,” Ainsley said. “Clearly, the plan is to form a western consensus but amongst the apolitical folks there is significant recognition of the dividing lines between some of the strategic countries mentioned such as the USA, Japan, and Australia.”

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.


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