Plexal CEO Andrew Roughan joins BBC News to discuss London Tech Week 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has again professed his passion for British innovation – as he did when he visited us in East London at our Plexal Stratford workspace at the start of the year – with a keynote speech kicking off London Tech Week this morning.

“It’s great to be back at London Tech Week at what I think is a moment of huge opportunity,” the Prime Minister declared. “We are an island of innovation. But at a moment like this, when the tectonic plates of technology are shifting – not just in AI, but in quantum, synthetic biology, semiconductors, and much more – we cannot rest, satisfied with where we stand.

“We must act – and act quickly – if we want not only to retain our position as one of the world’s tech capitals but to go even further and make this the best country in the world to start, grow, and invest in tech businesses.”

Insisting that “the more we innovate, the more we grow” and sharing the belief that “innovation is one of the most powerful forces for transforming people’s lives,” the Prime Minister also highlighted the UK is the best place in Europe to raise investment. 

Reporting on London Tech Week and the Prime Minister’s speech, BBC News presenter Ben Thompson spoke with Plexal CEO Andrew Roughan today. Asked why the British capital is such a beacon for funding, Andrew responded: “I think it’s all about talent in London, the investment capability in London and the presence of customers in London. I think that always drives where foreign direct investment goes, but also where the companies are growing scaling and seeking that market opportunity.”

Noting the London & Partners research that found London attracts more international companies than any other global city, Ben questioned whether London is a tough market to operate in. Andrew noted the London & Partners statistics tell the story of the city’s position in the UK and worldwide, but the significant progression of the digital age over the past decade has been the spark contributing to the opportunity for growth.

Our recent Cyber Lates event at the Plexal Stratford workspace covered the threats and opportunities of artificial intelligence within the cyber sector which, it turns out, was very timely. The Prime Minister’s London Tech Week keynote also detailed a mission to make the nation “the geographical home, of global AI safety regulation” while hailing the technology as “surely one of the greatest opportunities before us.”

Ben directed the conversation towards that topic of AI and asked Andrew for his position on if regulating too heavily is a risk of stifling innovation that could otherwise be delivered.

“I think the Chat GPT phenomenon around generative AI makes lots of the market think that we’re just on the dawn of the potential of AI,” Andrew started. “But we have to remember that AI dates back to the 1950s in terms of the original research into it. So lots of the regulation, the ethics and legislation that will follow, I think is well thought through.” As an example, Andrew pointed to the UNESCO standard being negotiated, which 193 different companies are signed up to so far.

“I think we must make sure that we put the guardrails in the right place but also understand AI from a growth potential perspective. So I’d certainly be an advocate of regulation, but regulation that genuinely understands the technology opportunity that it presents.”

Want to hear more from Andrew? Here he is on SME Web, discussing how Britain can build Europe’s most dynamic enterprise economy. Find out what else we’ve been up to on our Press Page and in our News and Views section.