The Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF) has called on the Government to open a specialist hub in Britain to develop policies to enable the growth of science and technology in the UK.
Professor Klaus Schwab was speaking in Parliament on Monday at the Autumn Reception of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). This term describes the accelerated advancement of new technologies, which includes everything from driverless cars, advanced artificial intelligence and autonomous factories to an increasingly integrated smart system of connected household appliances.
His idea for a Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Centre would mirror one already opened in San Francisco, which brings together business leaders, policy makers and international organisations to improve co-operation and laws that govern new technology.
The WEF founder has been one of the leading voices on the 4IR, writing an acclaimed book on the subject, with his Annual Meeting of world leaders in Davos focussing on the topic in 2016.
During his speech Prof Schwab argued that the UK has “all of the elements in place to lead the 4IR”, with one of the world’s most successful digital economies and a vibrant scientific community.
Prof Schwab said: “The 4IR is the key economic and political phenomenon of our time and politicians must respond now, as [the UK is] doing. Urgency and not complacency is needed. We have to make a case for the 4IR, not a dystopian perspective or a focus on just on job losses caused by automation. The 4IR offers more opportunity than threats and we can manage those threats.”
Speaking at the reception alongside Prof Schwab was Digital Minister Matt Hancock, who announced £25million worth of funding to develop the UK’s 5G mobile phone network. The “5G Testbeds and Trials” competition is part of the UK Government’s £740m National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), set up by ministers to support the next generation of digital infrastructure, including 5G and full fibre broadband.
Hancock described it as “critical” that the UK has in place world class digital infrastructure, part of “preparing Britain to take advantage of extraordinary new technologies”.
He added: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution will change the kinds of jobs needed in industry. Our strong view is that as a nation we must create the jobs of the future. Digital revolution brings with it disruption. The risk to jobs comes from not adopting new technologies. Our task is to support redeployment not unemployment.”
The Chairman of the APPG, Alan Mak MP, has led the 4IR debate in Parliament, publishing a Free Enterprise Group paper last year setting out policies the Government need to implement in order to take advantage of the 4IR. He backed the Prof Schwab’s call for more collaboration between the Government and businesses to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
He said: “The 4IR continues to be viewed by too many people, both in Westminster and around the country, as a niche policy area – and this must change. To lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we need to place it at the heart of our politics. From the Industrial Strategy and education policy to digital infrastructure and cyber security, the 4IR impacts on a wide range of issues that both Government and Parliament must engage with if we are to take advantage of the 4IR as we did the First Industrial Revolution 150 years ago.”