News Column

TEN THINGS WE LEARNED FROM TECH WEEK ...: The first London Technology Week drew together a cast of characters and ideas as varied and unpredictable as the sector they represent. From driverless cars to the ironic revelation that the capital's broadband network is sub-par, there was much to glean from five days of visionary thinking.

June 22, 2014

Alex Hern



Captions:

Kit Malthouse, London's deputy mayor for business and enterprise, is no fan of tech giant Oracle.

Malthouse told a Tech Week meeting that his top priority was to "take Oracle down", to much laughter in the room. Boris Johnson's sidekick later revealed that his issue with the company was its unwillingness to give a discount to the Greater London Authority during austerity-driven budget cuts in 2010.

Extended metaphors really get venture capitalists' blood going

Sequoia Capital is a big hitter in the world of tech finance and, on this evidence, a master of the hackneyed phrase. Sir Michael Moritz, chairman, said: "In Silicon Valley we are often too busy bathing in our private sunshine. But the change in London's technology climate has got us checking our weather apps. The alerts show that there will be plenty of opportunities to invest in technology companies based in London in coming years - some of which will become global powerhouses."

We are great at inventing things, not so good at what comes next

Hermann Hauser, an Austrian venture capitalist who works in Cambridge's Silicon Fen, told audiences that the UK tends to make a breakthrough and then leave commercial exploitation of it to others. Graphene, the revolutionary material discovered in Manchester but now being developed furiously elsewhere, is a case in point. Hauser said: "The old adage is that it gets invented in the UK and exploited in the US. We are getting better but a lot more needs to be done."

Housing problems hinder tech growth

Lucy Haynes, London director at business lobby group the CBI, bemoaned commercial and residential costs squeezing an entrepreneurial class that does not start out with deep pockets. She said: "If we are to attract and retain the brightest and best, we urgently need to tackle the endemic housing problem the capital faces."

Robots are not taking over the world yet. . .

Nick Hawes, a senior lecturer in intelligent robotics at the University of Birmingham, offered some reassurance for those who fear the Terminator franchise is a glimpse of the future. Allied to the rapid growth of the artificial intelligence sector, advances in robotics bring some science-fiction scenarios closer to reality. Hawes said, however, that sentient and independent-minded robots are not an imminent development. "AI research has only made a small amount of progress on all the challenges facing robots in 50 years - so don't get carried away," he warned.

. . . but when they do, humans will still cut it

"The jobs most at risk of automation are those that do not involve creativity, interaction, imagination, thinking," said Frances Coppola, of online magazine Pieria. "There will be a time when we pay more for the human interaction over a job performed by a robot, like a hairdresser."

Boris Johnson is firmly in favour of driverless cars

The London mayor, asked when we would see driverless cars on the capital's streets, said: "You already have driverless cars on the streets of London - parked. And we have no plans to remove them."

Scientists digitising the brain aren't trying to build deathbots

Sean Hill, of the Human Brain Project, said: "We're hoping to learn principles that may be very useful in developing brain-like functions. But our central goal is not about developing intelligent machines. It's really about understanding the brain."

The internet is holding back one of the world's foremost tech cities

In a report produced for the event, Boston Consulting Group gave the capital a spanking over broadband. It said: "London, which does not have top-of-the-line fibreoptic connection across all boroughs, suffers from mobile dead spots." So apart from that, it is a 21st-century city for internet connectivity. Offering advice on how to improve things, Boston added: "The city should benchmark its broadband against other cities with which it competes and launch an initiative to facilitate the development of public Wi-Fi and full-scale fibre rollout." Trying to match Seoul in South Korea would be a start.

Whatever happens, things are going to be very different from now on

The Economist, an early cheerleader of the tech sector through its technology quarterly, believes that the world faces a "tricky" period of change as it adjusts to technological advances. "Society has to meld itself to the demands of new technology. The world is going to change dramatically, but it's going to be a very tricky adjustment," said Ryan Avent (pictured left), the magazine's economics correspondent.

Left: Testing graphene at a lab in Redcar, North Yorkshire.

Boris Johnson, the London mayor, at the launch of the festival,

where he uttered hisbon mot about driverless cars.

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, puts London to shame with its provision of Wi-Fi and broadband.

REX FEATURES; CHRISTOPHER THOMOND FOR THE OBSERVER; PA; ALAMY


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Source: Observer (UK)


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