British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
The Prime Minister opened London Tech Week with a keynote speech. Reuters/POOL

In a speech delivered at London Tech Week, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak emphasised the urgent need for the nation to seize the opportunities presented by technological advancements in order to solidify its position as a global tech leader. Sunak stressed that complacency is not an option and called for swift action to establish the UK as the premier destination for starting, growing, and investing in tech businesses.

Sunak said: "We are an island of innovation. But at a moment like this, when the tectonic plates of technology are shifting – not just in AI, but in quantum, synthetic biology, semiconductors, and much more – we cannot rest, satisfied with where we stand. We must act – and act quickly."

The British prime minister highlighted the UK's strong foundation in innovation, citing its creation of 134 unicorns in the past decade, making it the third-largest unicorn producer globally, behind only the US and China. He underscored the country's digital literacy, with a higher percentage of STEM graduates than the US, as well as the presence of four universities among the world's top 10.

Furthermore, the Prime Minister acknowledged that technological progress goes beyond economic benefits, emphasising the power of innovation in transforming people's lives. He asserted that the ongoing technological shift, encompassing AI, quantum computing, synthetic biology, semiconductors, and more, presents an opportunity for human progress that could surpass even the industrial revolution in terms of speed and impact.

Sunak outlined his vision to make the UK the world's best tech hub, emphasising the importance of leadership and trust in the government's ability to understand and support innovators. He highlighted several measures taken by the government, including the creation of a pro-investment tax regime, increased public investment in research and development, and the establishment of competitive visa systems for international talent.

After announcing the launch of HSBC Innovation Banking, a significant global tech bank headquartered in the UK, PM Sunak highlighted Google's decision to consolidate its AI division in the country. Stressing the importance of AI, he revealed that the number of AI scholarships has doubled, recognising AI's potential as a transformative technology.

"I'm proud to announce the launch of HSBC Innovation Banking the most significant global tech bank combined with HSBC's firepower and headquartered here in the UK," he said.

Addressing concerns about the risks associated with AI, Sunak underlined the government's commitment to AI safety. The UK is investing £100 million in cutting-edge safety research, collaborating with leading AI companies such as Google DeepMind, OpenAI, and Anthropic.

Sunak announced plans to host the first-ever global AI Safety Summit, aiming to position the UK as a pioneer in AI safety regulation.

Furthermore, Sunak emphasised the potential of AI to improve public services, citing examples such as saving teachers' time through automated lesson planning and enhancing healthcare with quicker diagnoses and more accurate tests. He articulated the government's strategy to lead in AI domestically, foster global cooperation, and drive positive change in public services, aligning with the overarching goal of making the UK the world's foremost tech destination.

In addition, the UK's 56th Prime Minister drew a parallel to the past, referencing Charles Babbage's breakthrough invention of the difference engine, which was supported by the British government in the 19th century. He expressed determination for future generations to recognise the current government's courage, vision, and determination in seizing the technological moment.

Sunak concluded with a historical reference and a call to action, stating: "We're at a similar moment today. And I'm determined that when future researchers visit the British Library in 200 years' time, they will discover that this government, and all of us here in this room, met this moment with the same courage, vision, and determination."

The Prime Minister's call for urgency in building out the UK's tech sector underscores the government's commitment to leveraging technology as a catalyst for economic growth, societal progress, and global leadership in the digital age.