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Modern Industrial Strategy: Theresa May bets on AI, robotics and 5G for UK’s long-term future

The UK Prime Minister has proposed a Strategy which will 'back Britain for the long term', pledging investment into technologies like AI and pledging to upgrade infrastructure.

By Ellie Burns

Prime Minister Theresa May is to use her first regional Cabinet meeting to set out proposals for a modern Industrial Strategy, a plan designed to build on Britain’s strengths and secure its future as a competitive, global nation.

The Industrial Strategy plays a key role in the Plan for Britain set out by the Prime Minister last week. It aims to drive growth right across the United Kingdom, using major new investments in infrastructure and research to drive prosperity – creating more high-skilled, high paid jobs and opportunities.

At the core of the Strategy is an offer to businesses to strike new ‘Sector Deals’, driven

UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

by the interests of firms and the people they employ, to address sector-specific challenges and opportunities. As part of the deals government will be prepared to offer a range of support, including addressing regulatory barriers to innovation and growth.

“The Modern Industrial Strategy will back Britain for the long term: creating the conditions where successful businesses can emerge and grow, and backing them to invest in the long-term future of our country,” said Prime Minister Theresa May.

At the core of the new proposals is technology, with robotics, artificial intelligence and 5G networks identified as technologies which could be supported through the government’s new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The fund is part of £4.7 billion of additional R&D funding announced by the Prime Minister in November, a bigger increase than in any parliament since 1979. This is an encouraging move by the Government, with industry and research proving that future tech like AI and cognitive systems will be key in the future growth and productivity of UK businesses.

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“For businesses, understanding cognitive systems, big data analytics, machine learning technology, and AI – and how to leverage them – will be critical for survival. In the short term, these technologies will give organisations faster access to sophisticated insights, empowering them to make better decisions and act with agility to outpace their competitors,” said Mark Barrenechea, CEO at OpenText.

“From a productivity perspective, we spend a third of our time in the workplace collecting and processing data – AI could all but eliminate this work. Every job in every industry will be impacted by machine learning. We shouldn’t, however, fear this disruption. In many cases, the intelligence these systems deliver will be more accurate, immediate and safer than humanly capable. The opportunity to think exponentially means that the potential applications for these technologies are limitless. The economic impact of digital is vast. Businesses that use the internet tend to grow more quickly, export two times as much as those that don’t, and create more than twice as many jobs.”


Tech also plays a key role in the ten strategic pillars set out in the Strategy paper, with investing in science research and innovation named as the first such strategic pillar. This investment in tech was praised by techUK, the trade body for the UK technology industry, with Deputy CEO, Antony Walker, saying:

“The Government is spot on to place investment in tech at the heart of its modern Industrial Strategy. The “industries of the future” will be tech enabled and tech driven – digital transformation is the future.

“The Prime Minister has said a Global Britain must be “the best place for science and innovation”. As the vehicle for delivering the UK’s post-Brexit economy, the Industrial Strategy shrewd to stimulate technologies – like smart energy; robotics and artificial intelligence; and 5G – where the UK has existing strengths.”

Another strategic pillar named in the paper is the upgrading of infrastructure, with the paper stating that the UK must upgrade standards of performance on digital. Although this pillar was, again, welcomed by industry, many were keen to stress the importance of the role of business in this infrastructure change, with Nimble Storage’s Rich Fenton saying:

“Beyond remediating infrastructure on a national scale, true change will only be achieved if businesses start taking a smarter approach to increasing productivity in their own firm. For those companies that increasingly rely on digital technologies, it is important that they look into their own infrastructure to reduce the time currently wasted by employees on software delays”

A strategic pillar which will no doubt be much welcomed by an industry suffering from an ever-growing skills gap, was dedicated to developing skills. Pledging to ensure everyone has the basic skills needed in a modern economy, the pillar proposes a new system of technical education, in addition to boosting STEM and digital skills. Highlighting the need for investment in skills, recent research named the UK cyber security skills shortage as second worst in the world.

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