LONDON — Brexit Britain will be “the place” to set up a new high-tech business, Theresa May said in a Davos speech focusing on the role of technology in global growth, notably for artificial intelligence.
Avoiding any detailed discussion of the U.K.’s departure from the EU in her World Economic Forum address, the British prime minister said that the world has “only just seen the beginning of what AI [artificial intelligence] can achieve” and pledged to put her country at the forefront.
“Imagine a world in which self-driving cars radically reduce the number of deaths on our roads. Imagine a world where remote monitoring and inspection of critical infrastructure makes dangerous jobs safer. Imagine a world where we can predict and prevent the spread of diseases around the globe,” she said. “These are the kinds of advances that we could see and that we should want to see.”
She pointed out that every week for the last three years, a new artificial intelligence startup had been created in the U.K., adding that the country was promoting new training opportunities in the sector. The U.K. attracted over €5 billion in venture capital investment in 2017 — more than France and Germany combined.
That is unlikely to change radically on the U.K.’s departure from the EU but she steered clear of talking about other potential Brexit liabilities. The U.K. could be cut out of European data-sharing agreements, depriving companies and researchers of data that’s crucial for AI and other technologies. There is also a question mark over how easy it will be for tech companies to recruit highly skilled workers from the EU.
“We are absolutely determined to make our country the place to come and set up to seize the opportunities of artificial intelligence for the future,” said May.
In remarks that were pre-briefed to the media last night, May also used her speech to urge shareholders to put more pressure on tech companies to behave responsibly and prevent terrorists, extremists and child abusers from using their online platforms.
“No one wants to be known as ‘the terrorists’ platform’ or the first choice app for pedophiles,” she said.
“As governments, it is also right that we look at the legal liability that social media companies have for the content shared on their sites.”
“The status quo is increasingly unsustainable as it becomes clear these platforms are no longer just passive hosts, “ she added, noting that the U.K. was working with other governments and businesses on new legal frameworks for online platforms.