Based as it was in the heart of Shoreditch, it would have been rather remiss of us not to have mentioned anything on the subject of tech at the Elite Business National Conference & Exhibition. Fortunately we were given the great honour of being joined by Brent Hoberman, co-founder of lastminute.com and made.com, and a true titan of tech, who shared with us his vision of the future facing the UK’s silicon start-ups.
First of all, Hoberman sees huge opportunities for increased efficiency in areas that sorely need it. “There’s such an imperative to save money and tech is such a great way of doing it,” he explained. One example is in healthcare, where there is a huge potential to make savings using data to deliver diagnoses, whilst far better automated government services could vastly improve the UK’s economic efficiency. “There’s a huge amount of work to be done and costs to be saved,” he told the audience. “There is no doubt that the government could be a lot more efficient.”
But this is small fry compared to the opportunities represented by automation elsewhere. Hoberman referred to the substantive changes that we will see as artificial intelligence (AI) really comes into its own. Self-driving cars are certainly one such opportunity, potentially revolutionising the way we live. “What changes?” he asked. “Cities change. You don’t need road space, the repairs industry changes and I think we’ll see whole cities change.” Hoberman also feels AI will be a source of no small amount of care in our old age. “It still surprises me that we don’t have robots taking care of the elderly more,” he said. “They’ve proven they can work in Japan, so as the robots get more anthropomorphic and human we’ll see a lot more of that as well.”
It is true that trust in technology has taken a battering in recent years, particularly in light of the Edward Snowden revelations, but Hoberman revealed he doesn’t mind proportionate use of data gathering by government agencies. “With due process I’m very happy for the GCHQ to access my phone and my email,” said Hoberman. “I would be very worried if they couldn’t.” He does feel there needs to be a tightening up of the way electronic surveillance is handled. But he also suggested the risk of potential abuses by a democratic government are minimal. “Governments in democracy are like corporations,” he said. “They have to do what is in the consumer’s interest.”
And whilst it may be tempting to resist the march of technology in the UK, Hoberman was unequivocal about the impact that limiting it would have on UK businesses. “Privacy laws will give companies here a competitive disadvantage and make it harder to monetise,” he said. “You can’t ever pull technology back.”