Two seismic events have hit the UK in recent years: Brexit and Covid-19. The first has uniquely impacted the country, while the second is an issue that nations around the world are having to contend with. But, in different ways, both point to a need for the country to push the frontiers of science and technology to improve health and education and increase economic opportunity in the UK today.
How to harness the benefits of the technological revolution should be at the top of the domestic political agenda. But far from being just about our economic and social progress at home, it should also be viewed as a key geopolitical question. The US and China are continuing to invest heavily in the technologies that will shape the 21st century while others, including India, understand the importance of deeptech to success in the modern world. The choices the country makes and the strategy it pursues today will define its global standing in the years to come.
To help shape this thinking, the Institute has partnered with The Entrepreneurs Network to bring together entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, historians and policymakers to push forward the ideas that will help maintain the UK’s role as a science superpower.
In The Way of the Future, we set out ten ideas that will be required for the UK to tackle stagnating productivity and become a world leader in science. They include:
Harnessing the power of the digital age and cloud computing technologies to realise their huge potential.
Overhauling science funding to slash bureaucracy and more effectively drive innovation.
Building a new world-leading centre for research in the fast-developing fields of genomics, proteomics and epigenomics.
Recruiting the most promising young scientific talent from across the world with competitive scholarships.
Turning the UK into a nation of early adopters by pushing regulators to proactively remove barriers to new emerging technologies, such as drones, lab-grown meat and gene-editing.
The essays are endorsed by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Patrick Collison, co-founder of payments giant Stripe, who writes that: “The industrial and scientific revolutions that blossomed in the UK were the product of a deliberate ambition, an emphasis on technical and scientific understanding, a willingness to contemplate the unusual, an appreciation for experimentation in institutions and incentives, a dissatisfaction with the status quo, and internalisation of the basic truth that improvements to our material state are both possible and urgent.”
And as our Executive Chairman, Tony Blair, sets out in his preface below, policymakers too often ignore the importance of technology or focus on narrow concerns when “the real debate should be around how we use technology to usher in a new advance for humankind.”
It’s time to step up and take on the questions that will achieve this.
The ambition of my Institute is to become one of the foremost places in the world where policymakers and changemakers can come together to discuss, debate and decide the key issues around the technological revolution – the 21st-century equivalent of the 19th-century Industrial Revolution.
As Patrick Collison says in his foreword to these essays, this revolution is transformative, extraordinary in its consequences and impact, and will and should dominate our thinking in the years to come.
These essays are just a small illustration of what the power of technology can achieve. No one doubts technology can also have negative effects. But the critical point is that for good or ill, it is changing the world. This is the real-world event that is happening in our time, to our people and the world over. The challenge for politics is to understand it, master it and harness it for good.
Yet too often policymakers either ignore its importance or focus on questions like those to do with privacy, which are important but limited, when the real debate should be around how we use technology to usher in a new advance for humankind.
My thanks to all those contributing to this collection. The UK in particular has a tremendous opportunity in this field. But we have to act fast to access it.