This week, the European Commission published its strategy and white paper for Artificial Intelligence. It is a significant step for the new Commission, who promised to deliver this within its first 100 days.
The European Union was behind the curve in setting the direction of travel for the development of the consumer internet and the use of user data, which was shaped by the US and now owned by dominant giants like Facebook, Amazon and Google.
The rise of ambitious, well-funded Chinese tech businesses like Tencent and Huawei have only worsened the EU’s tech envy and strategic headache.
The EU’s new AI Strategy aims to capture the early mover advantage and shape how AI technology progresses. It strikes an optimistic tone about AI’s potential – in tackling climate change, improving healthcare and transforming mobility – while proposing rules and principles that make the datasets that AI development relies on as open and non-intrusive as possible. The strategy aims to build public trust and oversight for AI, but crucially for the EU, it also supports “full single markets, where companies of all sizes can compete on equal terms”, as the influential Vice-Commissioner Margrethe Vestager put it.
By laying down those rules, the EU hopes to encourage the tech sector to practice European principles and values for AI development, and attract and support the next generation of tech giants to base themselves in Europe.
The UK has now left the European Union. Once the Transition Period ends at the start of 2021, the UK Government has pledged to establish a new regulatory and taxation regime to make Britain a global leader in technology innovation, including AI. Alongside this, Boris Johnson has pledged a huge uplift in research and innovation spending. Put together, Johnson hopes to lure tech giants to Britain and foster British leadership in the sector.
However, the EU’s new AI Strategy makes clear how difficult it will be for the UK to operate in the gaps between three economic superpowers – the EU, the US and China. The UK may want to offer divergence from the EU to empower innovators, but will tech businesses ignore the rules and principles of the enormous European market next door when taking products to market?
This challenge brings home how important it will be for the UK’s innovative tech businesses to tell the Government what they need, and for Government to listen. As the EU gets serious about making tech progress, responsive and creative policymaking from Government and pro-active industry engagement will be needed to generate room for meaningful difference in technology standards and development for the UK in the years to come.
Take a moment to think about what a scientist looks like to you. The picture I have in my mind is an individual wearing the trademark lab coat and safety spectacles. While trying to decide whether he looks more like Walter White or Emmett Brown, I am struck by the fact that my scientist is undoubtedly a man. Despite the most influential scientists I worked with at university being women, I cannot shake the stereotypical image I was immediately drawn to. I believe this is an unfortunate reflection of a field in which women continue to be overlooked and underrepresented.
Science is supposed to be paving the way for the future and yet, when it comes to gender equality, it is stuck in the past. At present, less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women and with a lack of role models and equality in the field, only 30% of women choose to study STEM subjects at university.
Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and, to mark the occasion, I would like to highlight three incredible scientists who made ground-breaking discoveries in the world of science and healthcare.
Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958)
Rosalind Franklin was a chemist and x-ray crystallographer who, in May 1952, captured an image that would quite literally change the DNA of biological and healthcare research. The seemingly uninspiring and blurry ‘Photo 51’ would lead Watson and Crick to discover the DNA double helix, for which they won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Since then, we have sequenced our genome, increased our understanding of genetic disease and even learned how to edit our DNA.
Franklin died in April 1958 from ovarian cancer, possibly caused by exposure to the very x-rays which led to her discovery, something for which she was not recognised until the years following her death. With the Nobel Committee still unwilling to award posthumous prizes, Franklin remains one of the greatest unsung heroes in the history of biology and healthcare research.
Tu Youyou (1930 – Present)
During the Vietnam War, malaria claimed the lives of more Vietnamese soldiers than the war itself. Tu Youyou is a pharmaceutical chemist who, in 1969, was appointed the leader of the ‘Project 523’ research group, tasked with finding a cure for malaria. In 1972, after turning to traditional Chinese medicine for a cure, Tu discovered that sweet wormwood had been used 1,500 years before to treat symptoms of malaria.
Doudna’s breakthrough has opened the gates to a new era of healthcare research, with endless possibilities and implications, one of which could be finding cures for genetic disease. In recognition of this monumental achievement, she was a runner-up for Time ‘Person of the Year’ in 2016, missing out to a certain President, Donald Trump.
These three scientists achieved their healthcare breakthroughs in a male dominated field, without role models or recognition. The current landscape is unfortunately not as balanced as it should be, and we need to better communicate the achievements of women in science and healthcare to inspire the next generation and possibly, the next great discovery.
“Having seen Samsung’s David Eun speak at Web Summit on the company’s vision that how what makes a house a home is “experiences”, it was interesting to see the unveiling of both Ballie (the rolling robot) and the Bot Chef. Ballie, a human-centric vision robot, will roll around your house responding to your every command and controlling different aspects of your smart home. For how long will we need hardware for this though? Won’t the smart home become omniscient, omnipresent, etc? Will this be the mini disc of smart home – exciting tech that was quickly made obsolete? Following a fifth straight quarter of revenue decline, the company enters 2020 optimistic about how 5G will positively impact the market for chips and handsets, but also leaning hard into smart home as a key part of the future of the company.”
Hoda Awadhas highlighted a potential tool that could help those with dyslexia:
“Lexilife – French company Lexilife unveiled Lexilight, a lamp that they claim is designed to make reading easier for those with dyslexia. The Lexilight uses both pulsed and modulated light, which is said to help eliminate the mirroring effect that a dyslexic person sees. Researchers have found that those with dyslexia have two dominant eyes, which simultaneously send two different pieces of information to the brain at the same time. The Lexilight eliminates this by allowing the brain to process information as if it came from one dominate eye and users are able to tweak the lamp to their preferred frequency. According to the British Dyslexia Association, around 10 per cent of the UK population are dyslexic.”
Smart mobility has been a key theme at the show, as highlighted by Madano’s Ben Gascoyne:
“There was no shortage of smart e-mobility exhibitors at CES2020 – even Sony found time to surprise attendees by announcing the ‘Vision S’ concept car that showcases their in-car entertainment, information and sensor tech.”
“As a passionate runner and cyclist, there was plenty to appreciate too. UK-based start-up Humanising Autonomy flew the flag with their excellent AI-led tools that enable autonomous vehicles to better identify, interact and protect cyclists and pedestrians, and Harman, a Samsung subsidiary with a strong interest in the automotive industry, unveiled an innovative 5G platform that uses mobile signals to warn vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians alike of each other’s presence.”
“As automakers integrate these tools into their next generation of vehicles, CES2020 hopefully shows we can look forward to safer shared roads and better public spaces.”
At an event full of gadgets and devices aimed to improve our lives, Senior Account Manager, Kelvin Morgan, has taken a different approach with his favourite takeaway (pardon the pun) from CES 2020:
“CES 2020 has come at an interesting point for the human race as well as technology. At a time when climate change is threatening our very existence, and political tensions are gripping the world, I find it hard to justify promoting a sliding toilet or a smart bin. For me brands like Impossible Foods are doing good by harnessing technology to address the problems we’re faced with head on.”
“Pork is the most consumed meat on the planet and it is great to see Impossible launch a plant-based substitute. There has been a huge rise in humans adopting a plant-based diet and the new alternatives developed with the use of science and technology may yet help us find a way to address the climate crisis now.”
Have you attended CES 2020? Let us know onTwitter what’s caught your eye. Please also follow us across social media to keep abreast of company updates and to hear the latest comments from our consultants on the topics that matter.
The shackles are certainly off for Boris Johnson. Securing the largest Conservative majority since 1987, the Prime Minister has the parliamentary votes to deliver Brexit and push the policy agenda (loosely) outlined in the party’s manifesto.
Take a look at our analysis of what a Conservative majority means in our results-day mailer by clicking here (also pictured below):
Ice sculptures may be the fashionable metaphor in British political life right now, but assiduous voters who have taken the time to study the manifestos will be hoping that these policy pledges are carved in stone, rather than chiselled from ice.
Watching colleagues from our Energy and Environment and Healthcare teams conduct their side-by-side policy analysis this week, our technology team has been quietly waiting in the wings. Let’s take a look at the technology related policies across a few different areas.
Madano Analysis – By far the most aggressive move was Labour’s pre-announced plan to nationalise parts of BT to deliver high-speed broadband to the nation. The move caused discussion about whether the Internet is, in fact, a public utility and how crucial access is to equality. While not nationalisation, the Tory plan to invest £5 billion to connect premises deemed not commercially viable to connect via the open market represents significant state intervention. The Lib Dem proposal is sensible but does not define clear plans to accelerate bringing high-speed internet to existing properties.
Big Tech and Tech for Good
Madano Analysis – The Tories and Labour promise to get tough on big tech, with Labour pledging to tax the titans in part to pay for the National Broadband Service. The Conservatives say less than the other two parties about how they will produce a safer, fairer tech ecosystem, but they borrow language from the Online Harms review which has been conducted on their watch, building to legislation. The Lib Dems seem to have the best understanding of some of the future challenges we will face as a society thanks to technology advances in AI and automation, and their thinking around a code of ethics and skills anticipate the potentially massive disruption we face.
Skills and Innovation
Madano Analysis – Well, we may well need a lot of investment in skills if, as expected, the open labour market for tech firms shrinks significantly on January 31st. Labour has gone all in on clean tech and the Tories focus heavily on a visa scheme to mitigate Brexit, but all three recognise the vital importance of lifelong learning, pre-empting a period where technology makes skills obsolete ever more quickly. The Lib Dems perhaps have the proposals with potentially the broadest impact (a rising tide raises all boats approach), whereas the Conservatives are more targeted with policies designed to help the best talent and/or drive commercialisation. It’s a “comprehensives” vs. “grammar schools” debate for the 21st century!
Madano Analysis – Singing from the same sheet, the main parties all agree on the need to accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and passing legislation to set air quality targets. Labour’s pledges seem to think beyond EVs in a broader “future mobility” vein, with the mention of car clubs. Labour is stripping a decade of the CCCs recommendation for the end of ICE vehicles. Given the Committee on Climate Change prevaricated and then demurred on bringing forward the ban to 2035, Labour’s ten-year acceleration seems quixotic. Both the Lib Dems and the Tories think beyond simply the automobile, with the Conservatives pledging to build on investment in electric flight and Lib Dems looking to boost innovation in zero-emission technology like hydrogen fuel cells.
Madano Analysis – With a focus on frontline technology, the Conservatives continue to lean towards digital health services that can improve efficiency within the NHS or reduce the strain on it. Labour also wants to invest in frontline services but are more vocal on the need to spend more on advanced, emerging technology like AI for diagnostics and also on traditional machinery like more MRI and CT scan equipment.
Madano Analysis – To maintain the UK’s competitiveness as a knowledge-based economy, significant R&D will be a prerequisite, and all three parties make ambitious commitments to expand total R&D spending. Labour and the Liberal Democrats both commit to a 3% of GDP target, while the Conservatives back the more immediately deliverable target of 2.4%. But the most significant difference might be the Conservatives’ proposal to create an ARPA-style agency to fund high-risk, high-reward research.
In a few days time, a delegation from Madano’s tech practice will descend on Lisbon for Web Summit, sometimes described as “the best technology conference on the planet”. Ahead of the event we’ve been pouring through the agenda to identify the speakers who we think will be the most interesting for corporate communications and PR professionals focused on the tech sector like ourselves.
Some of the speakers, like Edward Snowden, would speak at the opening of an envelope (by video link of course, and provided the contents of said envelope were kept confidential). Others, like Tony Blair, are divisive – fascinating for some but would raise the blood pressure for others. It might be “too soon” for some of us to bear hearing Michel Barnier’s vision for the EU less than a week after the Halloween Brexit deadline. We’ll see.
It’s not an easy task to pick out the most rewarding talks in advance, especially given that the New York Times described Web Summit as the “grand conclave of the tech industry’s high priests”. It was also very hard for football obsessives like us to resist putting Ronaldinho on the list, but we just about managed it: having seen him play once or twice, his public speaking will surely not be on the same level.
Here’s our picks, let us know if you’d strongly recommend other speakers!
Margrethe Vestager, EU Commissioner for Competition – Arguably the most powerful figure within the European tech scene and responsible for some whopping antitrust fines, the outgoing competition chief has been at times criticised for not moving fast enough, effectively shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. With fair competition so crucial to a vibrant tech ecosystem, both startups and mega corporations will be interested to see whether she goes out with a bang and will be listening for hints in a major address. The recent move against Broadcom may indicate that there could yet be some fireworks before a changing of the guard.
Nikki Lannen, CEO, WarDucks – There are some headwinds in the VR world, especially with the BBC and Google scrapping their respective projects, so those seeking succour and positivity will be drawn to Lannen’s talk. WarDucks has a consistent record of making hit games for the format and she’ll be on stage to discuss the sometimes fraught dynamics in the founder/VC relationship.
Kate Brandt – Chief Sustainability Officer, Google – With the protests of Extinction Rebellion ringing fresh in the ears for many attendees, Kate Brandt’s talk on the move to a circular economy and Google’s role in that will be great food for thought for the wider tech industry considering its carbon footprint. Just don’t mention the “flyksgam”!
Olaedo Osoka, CEO, DayStar Power – Given the amount of work that Madano does in the clean energy tech arena and events we have hosted on energy inequality in the past, we are looking forward to hearing about what Daystar Power is doing to Africa’s power gap with clean and reliable power. Expensive and unreliable power represent a heavy burden for Africa’s businesses, impeding their growth and development.
Rohit Prasad, VP & Head Scientist of Alexa Artificial Intelligence, Amazon – As voice assistants (and smart home devices generally) struggle against a backdrop of privacy scandals, Prasad will deliver his views on advancements in and democratisation of conversational AI. What can we expect from AI-enabled assistants over the next few years? And should we be excited or concerned? The audience should have plenty of questions.
If you’re attending the Web Summit and have a communications challenge, we’d love to talk to you. Please contact Dominic Weeks to arrange a time to meet. See you soon, Lisbon!
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