A packed schedule of key political and figures from the technology world gave purpose and generated much food for thought at London Tech Week 2023, writes Sheryl Hickey
London Tech Week 2023 set out to position the UK as an epicentre for innovation and technology, across all sectors. The three-day event presented global thought leaders, cutting-edge innovators and tech experts who gave powerful insights into hot topics including Web3, the metaverse, digital transformation, green innovation, entrepreneurship, diversity in tech, scaling start-ups and what AI means for the tech workforce.
The event featured key areas such as the Enterprise zone and the Transformation Stage, the Start-Up Zone with tech demos and solutions from exhibitors, the Next Tech and Growth Stage, masterclasses and innovation hubs, and the networking-focussed Leaders Zone.
UK: Start Up, Scale Up
The main stage hosted a fireside chat with Keir Starmer who gave his thoughts on the rapid acceleration of AI and who this will benefit rather than hinder, “I’m really struck by the speed, of acceleration, of development of AI and we need to put ourselves in a position to take advantage of great benefits, but guard against the risks.”
He went on to answer tricky questions about jobs that are now being done by AI, stressing the importance of being clear about how it will affect employment. He believes that that the world is “nowhere where we need to be in terms of legislation… (We are) planning for rapid change and at the moment we don’t have that in place.”
Hailing the UK’s tech success stories, Starmer claimed: “We’re third in the world and we’ve got amazing tech going on the UK, we need to be clear about that and make sure we don’t lose that.” He also expressed his keenness to keep tech innovation within the UK, “We want to create the environment in which it will be possible to start up, to scale up, where we can attract the sorts of innovation and build on what we’ve got… The single most important thing is building the economy,” but emphasised the significance that governments are still needing a long term plan.
AI Skills vs. People Power
Todd Zipper, EVP and GM of Wiley, global leader in research, defined exactly what is meant by the skills gap, in his keynote speech: “So the skills gap is a mismatch between the demand for specific skills by employers and the availability of professionals with those skills to help companies deliver on their growth plans… Our latest Skills Gap Report from Wiley showed that 69% of HR professionals said they had a skills gap, which ultimately means they don’t have enough people to do what they actually want to do.”
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Echoing Starmer’s controversial topic of AI replacing skilled jobs he referenced data from LinkedIn’s most in-demand skill sets of 2023: “We’ve got technical skills…Cyber security, cloud computing… but we also have what we call power skills. In many ways, these are more important - these are things like leadership and teamwork, and communication. And the takeaway really is that the technical skills certainly are exacerbated by all the innovations that are happening and we have to keep up with that. The power skills, on the other hand, really come from experience so it’s really hard to gain those skills in a classroom type setting. You really need to be learning on the job, and that’s hard to do.”
Expert knowledge of the much talked about Web3 and metaverse developments was presented in a a panel discussion: Probing Reality and Myth in the Metaverse & Web3 – What does it mean for you?
Speaker Kristian Segerstrale, CEO, Super Evil Megacorp described the metaverse as an environment which offers “the sort of experiences a person can have where your physical abilities don’t matter.” He added it’s also a place where virtual communities can “get together to enjoy a shared culture, a way of having fun.”
To the notion of the metaverse being an augmented reality with “an evolution in business,” Isabel Perry, VP of Emerging Technology, expert in Al, Web3, AR, games and the metaverse responded: “The metaverse is AR, gaming, social platforms, and a future where brand connections are happening,” as well as “giving social validation of people in those spaces and driving revenue schemes.”
But she also believes that “the impact of Web3 I think will actually be delayed 5-10 years in terms of grabbing real economic opportunities and global brands.”
Attracting and Retaining Women in Tech
Another panel discussion breached the topic of gender inequality in tech roles, with 2.6 billion tech roles globally, “If we don’t tackle it, by 2025, there will be one qualified woman for every 128 technology roles globally,” said Debbie Forster, CEO at Tech Talent Charter.
The talk, The Tech Talent Crisis - Hiring and Retaining Diverse Talent, invited to the stage Code First Girls COO, Sophie Blinkhorn, as they discussed what tech leaders need to be doing to ensure women are part of the future of tech.
Blinkhorn gave thought on research data from joint report which launched at London Tech Week: “So the appetite’s there. It’s just about them, making sure that organisations look at those alternative routes into tech and don’t just say on a job spec that they want, you know, STEM degree and the typical qualifications, because if that’s the case, you won’t find the female tech talent that’s out there. And so definitely that point, but also the fact that senior diversity from a gender point of view has dropped by 6% in leadership roles, which is quite surprising. That’s something that’s very disappointing to see come up to the report also very interesting to see how we can change that.”
It was confirmed that the top three factors that women are looking for when deciding whether or not to apply for a job remain consistent: Salary, flexible working and career progression.
The report is from a wider research project which dives into the whole life cycle of diversity in tech, “not only with the recruitment and attraction phase, but all the way through to career progression, retention and retraining.”
Blinkhorn added that the figures also showed that 25% of women would leave their job and move into a tech role if they were trained within the role as well.
Over to Ukraine
Another insight came from a conversation with Deputy Minister Alex Bornyakov, in The Digital Transformation of Ukraine, who noted that The IT sector in Ukraine seems to be growing instead of receding: “For many, many years, Ukraine was known as a great outsourcing destination. And especially in the last year, it was like if you do something complex, like cloud computing, machine learning, AI blockchain you should not be afraid because this is where they not just code but they also do business analysis. Like very complex things in terms of IT.”
Boryakov also talked of AI savvy drones now in use, that once they lose connection with the operator can find its own way back.
He then spoke of the importance of crypto currencies: “There’s a lot of people from Ukraine, being a part of big crypto companies around the world. So eventually, I think we’ve just raised around $200 million alone. Government initiated aid for Ukraine together with private business raised $60 million just in crypto, which were redirected to humanitarian and military aid for our troops… And I think there’s a future for crypto we totally believe as a government that crypto could be a big thing.”
The overall emphasis of London Tech Week 2023 was a sense of intensive innovation and rapid technological change, juxtaposed against the need to build more inclusive and sustainable practices.