Four Grand Challenges

Comments on Jodrell Bank Speech

Theresa May, British Prime Minister, May 21st 2018, Macclesfield

In yesterday’s post I had high expectations of scooping a major news story, but no. Maybe it’s because I don’t own a television, but I am very disappointed by the lack of coverage of a speech that history may look back as a turning point when we, “as a nation” – to borrow a phrase, shifted our focus from banking and finance back to inventiveness and engineering. Maybe that’s just my hope though.

I’ve listened to radio 4 and searched on the BBC and ITV websites, but all the references to the speech are in relation to Brexit and are all sound bites. They all miss the point entirely.

The speech was full of historical rhetoric about how great we used to be in science and name checked a roll-call of the great and the good. It therefore managed to tick both the jingoistic and nostalgic boxes. This was, however, not a light-weight speech but instead sets out a direction of travel and intent that we should all be aware of, because it has the potential to change our industrial history.

The full speech can be read here https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-speech-on-science-and-modern-industrial-strategy-21-may-2018

Like with Harold Wilson’s “white heat of revolution” speech where I didn’t comment on his pro-soviet views, I will also not comment on the Brexit views contained within this speech. That is as divisive and full of misinformation as was the capitalist/communist argument in the 1930s to 1960s and a rabbit hole that yesterday’s media went straight down – missing the point entirely.

Here are some of my highlights of the speech. Some of these, as predicted, do echo the structure used by Wilson in 1963, though to be fair, perhaps it was closer to the 1961 speech to congress by JFK [link].

On the scale of change of the 4th Industrial Revolution we now face, referencing of 1945 Britain

Their grand-parents lit their homes with oil lamps and travelled by horse and cart, but they would live to see jet travel and space flight.

Echoing the 1960’s speeches

[…] the world today stands at the threshold of a new technological age as exciting as any in our past. Great changes in how we live, how we work, how we trade will reshape our economy and transform our society in the years ahead. This technical revolution presents huge opportunities for countries with the means to seize them. And Britain is in pole position to do just that […]

[…] But success is not automatic. We are at the forefront of scientific invention because we embrace change and use regulation not to stifle but to stimulate an environment for creativity […]

[…] Scientific research is a noble pursuit and a public good – whether or not it leads directly to a commercial application. But when a discovery does have the potential to create or transform an industrial sector, time and again British entrepreneurs have been the first to capitalise on it[…]

[…] However, the nature of innovation and progress is that new technology inevitably replaces old. And in the twenty first century, some parts of the country that once thrived because of innovation and technology has seen the jobs and opportunities of the past fall away […]

[…] Our challenge as a nation, and my determination as Prime Minister, is not just to lead the world in the 4th Industrial Revolution – but to ensure that every part of our country powers that success. […] Nurturing the talent of tomorrow – through more outstanding schools, world-leading universities and the technical skills that will drive our economy.

On Investment in Science and Technology

£7Billion in new public funding for science, research and innovation […] goal of 2.4% GDP invested by 2027 […] Could translate into £80 billion investment over the next decade.

On Education in new technology

£26K tax-free bursaries for new teachers in priority subjects […] New T-Levels as good as A-Levels […] New Institutes of Technology […] National retraining scheme to help workers of all ages adapt their skills to the jobs of tomorrow.

On other elements of the strategy

Renewing and extending our infrastructure with faster trains, bigger stations, better roads […] Delivering the next generation of mobile and broadband connections […] Right regulation, modern employment standards, effective corporate governance.

At this point in the speech Theressa May laid out what she calls 4 grand challenges. Noting that it’s hard to predict exactly what breakthroughs lie ahead, she set out a Mission for each of the challenges with promises of more to come. So stay awake!

Grand Challenge 1: AI and data

Mission: Use AI and data to save lives.

In short use AI and data to predict diseases that kill people which if detected early are treatable.

Grand Challenge 2: Healthy Ageing

Mission: 5 extra years of healthy living by 2035.

Use technology to keep people happy, healthy and independent in their own homes, change employment responsibilities and innovate new products.

Grand Challenge 3: Future Mobility

Mission: Only zero emission vehicles by 2040

We pioneered trains and jet air travel, so this should be a doddle. A bit light on details though. But get on with it, we invented Formula 1 for heaven’s sake.

Grand Challenge 4: Clean Growth

Mission: Halve energy usage of new buildings by 2040.

Well pretty much what it says on the tin for that one.

These four missions are just the beginning – and in setting further missions across the four grand challenge areas, we will work closely with business and [the private] sector.  In each one of these four missions, scientific and technological innovations have the potential to create jobs, drive economic growth across the country and deliver tangible improvements for everyone in our country.

Conclusion

This is the first use of the term “4th Industrial Revolution” by a British Prime Minister. It shows a recognition that big changes are underway in the structure of society and the way it integrates with the world of work and therefore inevitably in the distribution of wealth and allocation of capital.

The OGTC in Aberdeen must be a happy place today, if there is anything to note for them there will be much more funding for institutions like them and their influence on policy can only increase.

Of the four “Grand Challenges” it seems to me that “AI and Data” will be required for the other three too, so the structure is a bit wrong. The missions however seem like a good concrete way to lay things out – though, to be fair, they are not really up their with JFK’s mission announcement at Rice University in 1962 [link]

At least she didn’t say : We didn’t choose to go to Cheshire because it is easy, we do this and the other things because they are hard. Have you seen the potholes on the M6 or the price of a train ticket to Prestbury?

Though technology may even have reached that far North. I am reliably informed you can now get an Uber in Prestbury. There is – exactly – one. British enterprise knows no bounds.

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upstreamgareth

Entrepreneur, Management Consultant, Technologist - Interested in all things Upstream Oil and Gas, New Ventures and Projects.

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