One of the roles of Parliament is to cast ahead, to look to the horizon, and tackle the great challenges of our time.
So I applaud the creation of the APPG on the fourth industrial revolution, which surely is one of the greatest challenges we face, as a nation, and as a world.
The nature of the technologies is materially different to what has come before. In the past, we’ve thought of consumption as a one-off, and capital investment as additive. Yet put resources into the networks that now connect half the world, or into AI, and the effects are exponential.
The reason is that the cost of storing and transmitting information has fallen, perhaps faster than at any time since the invention of the printing press. That time it transformed the world, democratised knowledge, and brought down the whole feudal system of Government. This time it’s just got started.
And the nature of the new technologies is that the changes we are experiencing today, are probably the slowest changes we will see over the rest of our lifetimes. If you don’t much like change, I’m afraid I don’t have so much good news.
Our task, in this building and around the world, is to make this technology, this change, work for humanity. And I’m profoundly confident we can. Because this technology is made by man, so it can be hewn to build a better future for mankind.
And I’m delighted to speak alongside so many impressive colleagues who really understand this, and alongside Professor Klaus Schwab who literally ‘wrote the book’ on the 4th Industrial Revolution. Your work, bringing together as you do all the best minds on the planet, has informed what we are doing, and I’m delighted to work with you.
For the 1st Industrial Revolution, the UK could claim to be the ‘workshop of the world’ – propelled by development of the steam engine, it reached its pinnacle in the mid-19th Century. But the UK has not had the monopoly on waves of industrialisation.
Now, in the fourth revolution, we are determined to use our strengths to play a leading part. By its nature the fourth industrial revolution is more collaborative than the first. And we will play our part.
The UK is already a world leader in key technologies – AI, nano and biotechnologies, and additive manufacturing to name a few. Our Industrial Strategy outlines what we’re doing to ensure the UK is a leader overall.
And our Digital Strategy, embedded within the wider Industrial Strategy, sets out the seven pillars on which we can build our success. And inside that fits our 5G strategy, like a set of Russian Dolls.
Our Strategy covers infrastructure, skills, rules and ethics of big data use, cyber security, supporting the tech sector, the digitisation of industry, and digitisation of government. All these are important.
You will, for example, have seen that just yesterday we launched our review into Artificial Intelligence by Jerome Pesenti and Wendy Hall. It’s an excellent report which sets out what we need to do to support the enormous potential of AI while mitigating its risks. We want Britain to be at the forefront of work in AI, and this report shows the way.
Today I want to focus on just two of those areas: skills and infrastructure.
The 4th Industrial Revolution will change the kinds of jobs needed in industry. Our strong view is that as a nation we must create the jobs of the future. Digital revolution brings with it disruption. And as the RSA so powerfully set out last month, the risk is not that we adopt new technologies that destroy jobs. The risk to jobs comes from not adopting new technologies. Our task is to support redeployment not unemployment.
Our goal must be to automate work, but humanise jobs. Allow machines to do the dangerous, boring, and repetitive, and ensure we humans have the capacity to do the creative, empathetic and interactive.
We need a full spectrum skills response, from school to retirement.
So we now have coding in the curriculum from age 8. For those already in work, the Digital Skills Entitlement provides free access to basic training and promotes lifelong learning.
We can’t do this on our own, so our Digital Skills Partnership de-conflicts the huge amount of work going on in the private sector.
It’s critical we have next-generation digital infrastructure in place. We’re taking steps to cement our position as a world leader in future technologies of full fibre and 5G through the £740m of funding from the National Productivity Investment Fund that the Chancellor announced last year.
Travelling around the world I see much excitement at 5G, and I’m confident the UK will be at the front of the queue. And I’m determined we will do our bit.
So today I am delighted to announce that we are launching the first £25m competition for 5G testbeds and trials projects. We already lead on the highly technical development of 5G standards through the international work of the University of Surrey and others.
Now we are looking for innovative projects to test the roll out of 5G to develop the UK’s growing 5G ecosystem. We want projects that explore the real-world potential for 5G for example:
- to deliver benefits for businesses;
- to develop new 5G applications and services;
- to develop and exploring new business models around key 5G technologies; or
- to reduce the commercial risks associated with investment in 5G.
It will also support projects which explore ways of using 5G technology to address challenges in particular sectors, such as those faced in health and social care.
It’s all about preparing Britain to take advantage of these extraordinary new technologies.
Earlier this year, the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ was not a very well-known term – at least before it became a central topic at the World Economic Forum. It recently made its way into an item on BBC Breakfast television – this shows we’ve probably started to reach critical mass.