London Tech Week 2023: Three key takeaways

London Tech Week 2023 takeaways Image credit: London Tech Week

The 10th London Tech Week has drawn to a close after the sizzling conference attracted more than 30,000 technology aficionados, with some 3,500 startups and over 850 investors among their ranks.

Hot topics at the sweltering Queen Elizabeth II Centre spanned from AI to edtech, and from web3 to startup founder tips. The 10th anniversary attracted plenty of political figures from home and abroad, including Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

There were plenty of takeaways from the three-day conference and the many fringe events that popped up across London throughout the week.

We still don’t quite know what the metaverse is, tech’s role in the climate crisis has never been more important, and – despite progress – diversity is still holding back growth in the sector.

Here are UKTN’s three key takeaways from London Tech Week 2023.

AI was everything everywhere all at once

You don’t need ChatGPT to tell you that AI was the defining topic of this year’s London Tech Week – non-AI discussions often turned to the topic du jour.  

Both sides of the political spectrum agreed that while the AI revolution brings great opportunity, it comes with risks that need to be mitigated.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak kicked off day one with a fireside chat with Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis. Sunak stated that he wants to make the UK the “geographical home of global AI safety regulation” amid warnings about the risks the technology poses to humanity.

On Tuesday, Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer called for the government to move faster on AI regulation, while highlighting reskilling as a means to mitigate job losses.

Startups and tech giants alike were abuzz with generative AI, the technology underpinning large language models like Google’s Bard chatbot. Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK, told delegates that generative AI “will be the most significant inflection point in our lifetimes” and that it will be the next industrial revolution.

Arthur Hu, CIO of Lenovo, described generative AI as “auto-complete but on steroids” and said although it’s still early days, taking an “augmented intelligence” approach can put “humanness” at the heart of the technology.

Tech is a key battleground in the next election

The Conservative Party made its presence known throughout London Tech Week, in a sign that it has identified tech as a key battleground for the next general election.

Boris Johnson was the Etonian elephant in the room during Sunak’s opening remarks, with the prime minister forced to address the growing spat over his former boss’s honours list.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, in conversation with Erin Platts, CEO of recently rebranded HSBC Innovation Banking, and HSBC UK chief Ian Stuart, was keen to highlight the government’s role in saving Silicon Valley Bank from collapse back in March.

Chloe Smith, stand-in tech secretary, said the government “is not complacent about what’s required to maintain the UK’s pole position in the global tech race”.

Other political figures who took to the stage included Science Minister George Freeman, discussing quantum computing, and an opening keynote from Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who said London Tech Week has “become a symbol of our ever-growing power in global tech”.

There was also a slew of government funding announcements: £4.3m in funding for space-based solar power projects, unveiled by Grant Shapps, the UK’s energy security secretary; £54m for quantum technologies; and £54m for AI research.

Sunak’s charm offensive culminated in a Downing Street garden party attended by tech CEOs and key stakeholders.

Starmer – Labour’s only MP speaking at the event – said that “technology, AI, will be part of the story” for how the opposition party would govern, “whether it’s health or whether it’s growing the economy”.

London’s tech scene is vibrant despite downturn gloom

The attractiveness of London – and the UK more broadly – for tech businesses has come under the microscope in recent months.

Microsoft’s vice chair said the competition regulator’s decision to block the acquisition of Activision is “discouraging” UK tech innovation. Revolut’s founders have slammed the UK as being less supportive of businesses compared to the US. And a lack of liquidity in public markets has raised questions about London’s appeal for tech IPOs.

Yet judging by the mood on the conference floor – and the size of the bustling crowds navigating the venue’s ill-equipped lifts – London continues to be seen as one of the world’s top global tech hubs.

“Honestly, it’s a great place for a tech startup to be,” Gordon Midwood, CEO and co-founder of Anything World, told UKTN. “Those guys [Microsoft and Revolut], I think they’re just throwing their toys out of the pram because they didn’t get what they wanted.”

Throughout the week, there were further votes of confidence in the capital as US investment firm Andreessen Horowitz announced plans to open its first office outside the US in London.

At a fringe event organised by Tech Nordic Advocates, there was plenty of optimism about the opportunities in the UK market from a cohort of female founders, who had travelled to pitch to investors at the London Stock Exchange.

Data published by London & Partners to coincide with the conference shows that the UK capital has been the number one city for global tech investment over the past 10 years.

Taking the right steps – from balanced AI regulation to encouraging more investment – will help maintain London’s tech momentum over the next decade and beyond.