Theresa May has unveiled plans to invest £153m in quantum computing as the government attempts to position the UK as a leader in the burgeoning sector.
Speaking at the launch of London Tech Week in east London on Monday (10 June), the prime minister said the funding, which is supplemented by a further £205m from industry, would accelerate British research into the technology and its applications, including drug development.
May also announced that from 2020 there will be 2,500 places on artificial intelligence and data conversion courses at British universities, including 1,000 government-funded scholarships, as part of a £13.5m drive to meet the demand for AI specialists within UK-based businesses.
“British Tech is growing over one and a half times faster than the rest of the economy, adding more than one hundred and thirty billion pounds to our economy every year (…),” May said. “But if we are going to maintain our position as a global leader, our challenge is how we develop British Tech and make it even better.”
The government announced on Monday that it had secured a further £1.2bn of investment in the UK from global tech companies, with the US security giant VMware committing £1bn alone.
“We want this to be the place everyone thinks of – and comes to – first when they want to develop their world changing tech ideas,” May added. “This is a challenge shared between industry and Government.”
May’s intervention comes just over a year after the government created an AI sector deal amid criticism that it had failed to do enough to bolster the British tech sector ahead of Brexit.
The total amount of venture capital raised by British startups fell from £3.12bn in 2017 to £2.49bn last year. Over the same period, investment in French firms rose from £748m to more than £1bn. President Emmanuel Macron has made a series of efforts to position Paris as a contender for London’s tech crown since the Brexit vote.
Recent research by the membership group Tech London Advocates (TLA) found that 23 per cent of entrepreneurs had seen investors defer investment decisions as a result of the ongoing political crisis.
But the funding announcements were welcomed by TechUK. The tech trade body’s CEO, Julian David, said: “The prime minister today has rightly chosen to use London Tech Week to target support for next generation technologies. Investment in quantum computing and supporting people to begin careers in AI and data shows the kind of forward looking focus that can and should underpin the UK’s digital strategy.”
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