The International Technology Strategy
On Wednesday, the UK Government published its International Technology Strategy, setting out how it plans to make the UK an ‘international technology superpower’ by 2030.
The strategy is the latest in a series of recent science and technology announcements - including the refreshed Integrated Review, the Science and Technology Framework, the Future of Compute Review and the announcement of an AI foundation models taskforce.
While the Government’s professed commitment to prioritisation of science and technology is admirable, the strategy fails to set out how the UK will harness technological advances to support social and economic progress.
We therefore recommend that a future Labour Government immediately update the International Tech Strategy once in office.
Labour for the Long Term has recently set out its thoughts on how the UK can harness the benefits of key emerging technologies at the domestic level (including semiconductors and AI). To complement this, in the international arena, we recommend that a Labour international tech strategy should:
1. Ground the UK approach to technology in progressive values by harnessing technological advances for public good.
The central ambition of the Government’s tech strategy is to make the UK a “technology superpower” by “win[ning] the global battle for technology influence”. In reaching this goal, the UK’s action on the international arena is to be grounded in values including the promotion of personal freedom, open societies, and the rule of law.
While we support these ambitions, this framing omits what we believe should be the fundamental principle underlying the UK’s approach: harnessing technology for the public good.
A Labour strategy based on this principle would be grounded in progressive values. This means:
- Regulating to ensure that the benefits of technological advances are broadly distributed - and do not simply benefit the already well-off.
- Committing to minimising any negative economic impacts of technological advances upon working people - such as job losses resulting from automation.
- Updating legal frameworks to ensure that technological advances do not discriminate against certain groups.
2. Promote international collaboration to rapidly harness the benefits of technology - including in compute resource
At the international level, harnessing technology for public good will mean focusing on active cooperation and collaboration with like minded nations - in order to rapidly deliver public dividends from technological progress.
For example, rather than simply build our own exascale computer - which would significantly lag behind private sector equivalents by the time of completion in 2026 - we could also formally collaborate with allied nations to develop shared public compute capability. To do this, we should look to pool resources with other European nations to build jointly-owned high performance computing data centres that allow for public access. This would allow British scientists, engineers and AI developers access to cutting-edge public compute capabilities on a much more significant scale and at an earlier date than if we focused all our efforts on sovereign capabilities.
While sovereign technological capability must of course be maintained in national security critical areas, collaboration is preferable outside these areas - as the Government acknowledges in its “own-collaborate-access” model for tech prioritisation.
3. Promote international governance that is robust as well as agile - including monitoring regimes for AI and other key technological capabilities
The Government’s strategy rightly emphasises the emerging risks posed by AI and other key technologies. Its call for an “inclusive international dialogue on the current and future risks presented by AI” is welcome.
However, an international response limited to dialogue alone is unlikely to be adequate to address the challenges posed by AI.
A Labour Government should explore the establishment of an international monitoring and reporting regime for AI and other key technological capabilities. Accurate and shared knowledge of the state of AI capabilities would allow governments to respond in a timely and appropriate manner to significant advances. It would also allow for more informed international dialogue on the risks posed by AI and other technologies.
4. Recognise that UK tech success flows from political, economic and regulatory stability
The Government’s strategy to make the UK a technology superpower fails to address the central reason we have fallen behind our competitors in recent years: thirteen years of economic and political mismanagement under the Conservatives.
A combination of disinvestment during the austerity period, half a decade of regulatory uncertainty following the Brexit referendum, and frequent changes of political leadership and policy direction have led to technology companies being unwilling to make long-term commitments to the UK, and a loss of top tech talent to competitor countries.
A Labour Government should look to bring back the regulatory and economic stability which are essential preconditions for a thriving tech sector.
James Baker is Labour for the Long Term's Executive Director for Policy and Operations. Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.