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Tech Week: London ‘securing its place as Europe’s major AI hub’

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London is fast becoming a global centre for AI development and business, a major tech conference in the UK capital was told on Monday.

Over the past decade, the total value of London’s tech ecosystem has surged from $70 billion in 2014 to $621.5 billion in 2023, the Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking 2024 launched at London Tech Week on Monday said.

Ranking alongside New York and just behind Silicon Valley standing at No 1, London is established as Europe’s premiere tech hub. The report said London is now home to 103 unicorn businesses, and has seen an 800 per cent rise in venture capital investment over the past decade, reaching a total of $107 billion invested. Tech ventures invested $12 billion in London in 2023.

Mayor Sadiq Khan told London Tech Week the city has “unique strengths” and was “fast becoming one of the most important centres for AI businesses globally”.

Alex Kendall, the founder of the autonomous driving firm Wayve, told conference delegates that London was a “tech superpower”, and that “having global ambitions is important”.

AI would “transform robotics” and that “we are going to need robots that can make decisions for themselves”, he added.

More than 45,000 people are expected at this year’s Tech Week over the next three days, which includes keynote speeches, panel discussions and fringe events.

Visitor numbers are predicted to be double what they were last year, with hundreds of exhibitors packed into London’s Olympia exhibition centre looking to show their wares and network with other tech companies.

Several chief executives and chief technology officers from the world’s biggest technology companies noted the next few years will be transformative, not just for the tech sector but for society as a whole.

“As we think about AI’s potential in the year ahead, decisions made by all of us will shape the future and the headlines that will happen in the next 12 months,” said Clare Barclay, the chief executive of Microsoft UK.

“I think it’s one of the most remarkable times we have in the tech sector. We really are on the cusp of the next era.”

AI was very much the focus of the opening sessions and panels, with questions being asked around the current viability and take-up of the technology by businesses.

“There is commercial value in AI and it can be done safely and ethically,” said Nicola Hodson, IBM’s chief executive for the UK and Ireland.

“AI will add $4.4 billion a year to global GDP. The AI industry will outstrip the UK economy by a trillion dollars within six years.”

‘Utterly breathtaking’

Ms Barclay described the developments in AI as “utterly breathtaking” and pointed out that a third of Europe’s AI start-up companies were in the UK.

“Linked to this, there’s an influx of investment and venture capital into the UK that’s fuelling growth,” she said.

“AI cloud technologies could add up to £550 billion [$700 billion] to the UK’s GDP by 2035 and [the country] is now ranked third in the global AI-readiness index.”

Much was made of AI’s potential to heighten productivity for companies, with one statistic highlighting that for every pound companies spend on AI and upskilling, they’re seeing about £5 returned in terms of value created.

While the potential for AI to enhance economic growth is clear, Ms Hodson also pointed out that AI needs to “be trusted” and that the development of it needs to remain open.

“An open approach means more eyes on the code and encourages collaboration,” she said.

Many of the speakers that talked around AI made much the same point: That artificial intelligence is a future that is sprinting towards the present.

“Computing power continues to be almost unlimited,” said Mark Chaban, general manger, customer success and innovation at Microsoft.

“When you think about the scale of laws in terms of these deep neural networks, it really broke Moore’s law in terms of computing power doubling every 12-18 months.

“What we’re seeing now is the training of the large language models are doubling every six months and quadrupling in terms of their power and capability.”

Updated: June 10, 2024, 2:28 PM

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