PRESS RELEASE: The UK has a virtuous circle of growth in AI development, investment, deployment, and adoption: The UK and in particular, London is becoming a true innovation and investment epicentre for everything AI.


Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK Landscape Overview:
Companies, Investors, Influencers and Trends

The UK has a virtuous circle of growth in AI development, investment, deployment, and adoption: The UK and in particular, London is becoming a true innovation and investment epicentre for everything AI.

 The online press launch is open to the media: 15 December 2021, 13:15 pm [RSVP here]


Press Release including press quotes & figures [DOWNLOAD HERE]

16 pages report teaser  [DOWNLOAD HERE]

90 pages full report [DOWNLOAD HERE]

Static mindmap [LINK]

Today we are launching the most comprehensive overview ever produced of the UK AI Industry. The analysis and report entitled “AI Industry in the UK Landscape Overview: Companies, Investors, Influencers and Trends” are products of our Innovation Eye IT Platform and powered by Big Innovation Centre and Deep Knowledge Analytics. It is a new 2021 version of our 2018 analysis and report which was originally published in dialogue with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Artificial Intelligence (APPG AI) which contained the first comprehensive mapping of the UK AI landscape.

We show the rapid pace of which the UKs’ AI industry is developing. We do this by analysing more than 2000 AI-centric companies and 1500 investors who invested £13 billion into the UK’s AI sector, and more than 90 hubs with AI programmes (including think tanks, tech-hubs, doctoral training centres, and events companies). The report also identifies more than 150 influencers and experts in the AI space (divided into specific areas of practical application, including Policy, Business, Academia, and Think Tanks).

Our main findings are:

UK’s AI Funding Landscape:
Funding includes investments, donations, grants and subsidies.
  • The total funding to the UK’s AI industry to date is £13.8bn. Funding to the AI sector generally began around 2010. The total growth in the funding to the UK’s AI industry over the past 3 years [2019-2021] is £9bn.
  • The total number of investors in UK’s AI investors who have provided this funding now exceeds 1500 investors, and the total growth in the number of investors in the AI industry over the past 3 years [2019-2021] is about 900.
  • The top 3 AI sectors which have received AI funding are Fintech, Marketing & Advertising and Health (got ca 60% of total AI funding), and the top 15 UK AI companies by Total Funding got ca 26% of this funding provided over the past 3 years [2019-2021]

 UK’s AI Industry Demographics:

  • The total number of AI companies (start-ups and scaleups) in the UK now exceeds 2000, which is double that of three years ago, so we have experienced a growth of ca 1000 AI companies over the past 3 years [2019-2021].
  • 65% of UK’s AI start-ups and scale-up companies are headquartered in London.
  • The top 3 AI sectors by number of companies are Marketing & Advertising, FinTech, and Consulting (constitute ca 47% of Total AI companies)
The 90-page report and online analytics is described in text, data, graphics, and interactive online mind maps containing hundreds of websites which breaks down investment on a company-by-company basis more than £13 billion worth of investment into UK AI companies and maps our entire AI ecosystem (companies, investors, influencers, and trends).
Stay tuned for our press launch or read the press release or summary to find out:
  • Does the UK have the required resources to become a global hub for Artificial Intelligence?
  • In which region do we find the UK’s true innovation and investment epicentre for everything AI?
  • Has the UK marshalled enough resources across the industry, government, academia and thought leadership to build an innovation and investment ecosystem for Artificial Intelligence development, applications and cooperation? 
  • Does the UK’s AI strategy have the resources, political will and suitable regulation to cement a global leadership position for our AI industry?

Speakers include:

Parliamentarians, policymakers, and experts from different industry sectors will discuss the role of AI in the economy, its growing importance and current trends.

Lord Clement-Jones CBE – APPG AI Co-Chair
Stephen Metcalfe MP – APPG AI Co-Chair
Professor Stuart Russell – British computer scientist and founder of the
Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence, UC Berkeley
Dr Scott Steedman: Director of Standards at British Standards Institution (BSI)
Charles Kerrigan: Partner CMS Law

The Press Launch will be led by Professor Birgitte Andersen, CEO of Big Innovation Centre and Dmitry Kaminskiy, CEO of Deep Knowledge Group. They will present the results of the UK AI Industry Landscape Overview 2021.

There will be an opportunity to share your opinion and raise questions

Inquiries regarding the Press Launch:

AI and automation: how can the UK prepare for the future of work?

AI and automation: how can the UK prepare for the future of work?

Spotlight convened a panel of politicians, academics and industry leaders to discuss one of today’s most significant policy challenges.

This article published in The New Statesman highlights the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on AI citing our Vice-Chair and Chair. You can read the full text below. Big Innovation Centre is the Secretariat and research hub for the group.



AI and automation: how can the UK prepare for the future of work?

Spotlight convened a panel of politicians, academics and industry leaders to discuss one of today’s most significant policy challenges.

In January 2018, Google CEO Sundar Pichai claimed that research into artificial intelligence (AI) was one of the most important fields of human endeavour. “It is more profound,” said the Silicon Valley executive, “than […] electricity or fire”. 

Such is the fervour surrounding AI and machine learning that thousands of economists, policymakers and business leaders are seeking to understand not just how these technologies will transform organisations and industries, but also the future of work itself. 

Following the publication of a recent New Statesman policy supplement on this topic, Spotlight convened an expert panel of politicians, academics and industry leaders to discuss how we can harness the efficiencies of advanced machine learning, while minimising workers’ exposure to some of the harmful consequences of automation. 

Opening the discussion, Stephen Timms, chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, set out one of the key concerns regarding policymaking in this area: the paucity of data about how many British businesses are investing in AI services. “We don’t really have very good data at the moment on the extent of the roll-out of automation,” said Timms, whose committee has produced a recent report on the subject. “We think the annual business survey ought to pick this up a bit more than it does, so we can get a better handle on [the data].”

Questions about the degree to which machines will make human labour redundant have long divided economists, but Timms struck an optimistic note: “There will certainly be jobs that go and there will certainly be many, many jobs that are dramatically changed by automation, but we think that the loss of jobs will be accompanied by the creation of new jobs. We don’t think we’re going to be in a world where everybody works for four hours a week.” 

Increasing automation will nevertheless pose a major challenge to policymakers. “For departments like the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education, there are big [questions] about how you equip people for the changes that are coming,” said Timms. 

Yet as the former Treasury minister noted, automation is already reshaping key industries. The rise of gig economy platforms such as Uber means that labour is increasingly managed by algorithms with little to no human supervision. Dora Meredith, head of programmes at the Institute for the Future of Work, said this approach to work is now creeping into other parts of the economy too. 

“We found that the ethos, practices and business models of the gig economy are being embedded across many essential sectors without an understanding of the profound adverse impacts on workers’ lives,” said Meredith. “We refer to this as the ‘gigification of the economy’, and see this as a significant challenge for employees, but also employers.”

The panellists were in broad agreement that AI should be introduced in ways that enhance human work, by automating routine processes and freeing up professionals to carry out highly skilled tasks. But while this affords huge advantages to early adopters, employers that fail to embrace automation services risk being left behind. 

Christopher Ford, head of government affairs at IT services firm DXC Technology, said the key to successful deployment of automation is lifelong learning. Without this, Ford warned, companies would not be able to take advantage of AI. “The ability to leverage these new technologies is key to our geopolitical competitiveness. Our ability to leverage this within government allows us to make faster decisions, to out-think our geopolitical rivals and to out-think our socio-economic problems. 

“It is absolutely critical,” Ford added, “that we raise the level of understanding within government and the civil service about how to do things more efficiently and quickly… For me, the opportunity is the same as the risk: we don’t embrace it early enough. We don’t recognise that this is a technology of the future.” 

As well as requiring a rethink of education policy, some policymakers believe the rise of AI services will also necessitate a slate of new regulations. Yet Carol Monaghan, vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Artificial Intelligence, warned there was a lack of expertise within government around how machine learning systems work. “We need more expertise and more and more input from events like this, but also from people working in developing AI systems. We need to know what it is that we need to know.” 

Echoing Monaghan’s concerns, Mark Woods, chief technical advisor EMEA at Splunk, a data platform software company, said that government policymaking in this area was not joined up. “Sometimes,” he said, “we like to separate AI and automation and some of those applications from the data that actually drives them and the application itself.” Woods said the UK’s distinct AI, data and industrial application strategies “don’t necessarily pull those [considerations] together”. 

The solution, Woods added, is to create policy that considers how “these things are actually going to be applied. There’s a huge reciprocal effect between understanding what we have now and driving innovation in the right areas to fill those gaps.” 

Gina Neff, executive director of the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at the University of Cambridge, said more thought must be given to “the last mile of implementation” of new automation services. “[The risk is] we stay thinking on a very macro level, when really we need to think quite granularly about how individual workers in their jobs are understanding, reacting to, appreciating, implementing and applying new kinds of data in their day-to-day work.” 

One way of understanding how AI may disrupt the world of work is to look to those sectors where it already has. Huw Kwon, vice president – global head of AI and analytics strategy at multinational tech firm Cognizant, noted that the banking industry has long invested in automation. “Our credit card offerings and our mortgage decisions are almost entirely automated. We can extract some of the parallels by inviting experts from the banking world to offer guidance. I think that will make it more real and practical, as we actually argue and think this through.” 

Matt Warman, the former minister for digital infrastructure, said that for governments to maximise job creation in the coming years they must prioritise data, ethics and skills. Warman said that when he was helping to develop the government’s AI strategy, “the thing that worried me most is the lack of skills availability in the UK”. In practice, Warman said, this “meant trying to make sure that what was being kicked out from schools, universities and apprenticeships was what was genuinely useful to businesses, small and large”. 

As a professor working at both Oxford and Cambridge, Neff reiterated this point: “The investment need is now. If I’m talking from a very privileged position from among two of the best universities in the UK, it’s a need at every single institution in this country.” 

Neff argued that workers across many industries needed to be educated in the strengths and weaknesses of AI tools. “We need to have those clinical workers on the front lines of the NHS be able to understand when they’re looking at the results of automated systems, as they soon will, that they’re able to parse what AI can do and what it can’t do. It’s incredibly important for the safety of these systems.” 

Concluding the discussion, Stephen Metcalfe, the chair of the AI APPG, said the UK is “very well placed to lead on AI regulation both in the UK, across Europe and the world”. He added that skills had appeared high on the agenda of the meeting and that a new approach to education was necessary to ensure individuals know how their data is being used in AI systems now, but also so that the courses they take at schools, colleges and universities prepare them for the jobs of the future too. 


Press Release: The UK and in particular London is becoming a true innovation and investment epicentre for everything Blockchain

Blockchain Industry in the UK Landscape Overview:
Companies, Investors, Influencers and Trends

Press Release (3 Nov. 2021)

The UK and in particular London is becoming a true innovation and investment epicentre for everything Blockchain

A hub for purposeful, innovative, and safe international Blockchain integration and cooperation

Download press release here:

View report (90 pages) and analytics here:

RSVP to online press Launch here [3 November 10 to 11 am]:


Today we are launching the most comprehensive overview ever produced of the UK Blockchain industry. The analysis and report are products of our Innovation Eye IT Platform, and powered by Big Innovation Centre, Deep Knowledge Analytics and Greengage.

Our report and analysis is entitled “Blockchain Industry in the UK Landscape Overview 2021: Companies, Investors, Influencers and Trends”. It is a new version of our 2018 analysis and report which was originally published in dialogue with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain (APPG Blockchain) which contained the first comprehensive mapping of the UK Blockchain landscape.

The 90-page report and online analytics of hundreds of webpages for deep dives is described in text, data, graphics, and interactive online mind maps. It shows that:

  1. The investment confidence in UK- and London-based blockchain entrepreneurship is high and growing, and that the UK’s Blockchain innovation and investment ecosystem is becoming a magnet for entrepreneurial finance.
  2. London – as Europe’s financial centre – is now also innovating a new financial ecosystem and cutting edge blockchain adoption, whilst receiving the majority of finance and being the headquarters for most UK blockchain companies.
  3. The UK has a highly integrated blockchain innovation ecosystem of talent across industries, including the science base, technological foundation and a tradition of entrepreneurship. Those industry, finance and talent systems are mixed with a network of Blockchain think-tanks and events companies that are building the UK into a world-leading Blockchain community.
  4. Blockchain applications are moving beyond proof of concept into use across both private and public purpose sectors.
  5. UK blockchain entrepreneurship, talent and investment is in close proximity with regulators, which increasingly are playing a pivotal and positive role to help promote dialogue and shape the discussion with firms.



Professor Birgitte Andersen, CEO Big Innovation Centre said:

“The UK, and in particular London, is becoming a true innovation and investment epicentre for everything Blockchain. This is because we have all the ingredients to create successful innovation and growth hubs – investment confidence, talent in Blockchain science, technological development foundation, and blockchain entrepreneurship. But it does not end here – the UK’s network of Blockchain think-tanks and events companies are also playing an essential role in building the UK into a world-leading Blockchain community.

“The UK’s blockchain industry can’t succeed without political will, so we are delighted to see evidence that the uptake of blockchain technology and integration is finally happening, moving Blockchain applications beyond proof of concept into use across both private and public purpose sectors including energy, health, finance and creative industries.

“The UK’s blockchain entrepreneurship, talent and investment is now happening in proximity with regulators. Of course, much more needs to be done for regulation, standards and business models to cement our position.

Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, Member of the House of Lords, said:

“We are at a point in time, a moment in history, and have an opportunity to take every tool of our new technologies to develop, deploy and distribute them for the public, common, economic, social and psychological good.  We can do this.  It is our choice.

“In this vein, I am delighted to welcome this 2021 UK Blockchain landscape overview, which breaks down on a company-by-company basis more than £1.6 billion worth of investment into UK blockchain companies and maps our entire blockchain ecosystem of entrepreneurial talent and the most prominent use-cases for Blockchain adoption and much more.

“Whether reducing friction in international trade, addressing the climate change challenge, decentralising and democratising finance or providing financial assistance to individuals through Covid, blockchain is already playing a powerful role. Politicians and decision-makers must take a close look at the findings of this major blockchain landscape overview.

“As I set out in my 2017 ‘DLT for public good’ report, ultimately success will come down to leadership, collaboration and innovation. This 2021 landscape overview demonstrates that we have what we need in the UK to enable local, national, and global transformation through such new technologies.

Sean Kiernan​, Chief Executive Officer, Greengage Global Holding Ltd, said:

“The UK, and especially London, have a unique potential to become true epicentres of purposeful, innovative, and safe international Blockchain integration and cooperation. Examples of steps towards this include the FCA sandbox, the Khalifa review and the FCA cryptoassets taskforce.

“The SEC Chairman Gary Gensler mentioned back in 2018 that financial services represent around 7.5% of US GDP, and that blockchain innovation can deliver considerable efficiencies in the sector. For an economy like the UK in 2021 with a similarly significant financial services industry, efforts need to be coordinated across financial services firms to set standards and best practice. The UK regulators are playing a pivotal role in this regard to help promote dialogue and shape the discussion with firms, but more needs to be done.

Martin Docherty-Hughes, Member of UK Parliament and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain, said:

“The 2021 UK Blockchain Landscape shows that Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland together account for more investment in Blockchain technology than the rest of the European nations combined, and we should leverage this world technology leadership to support the public good.

“We need to look at distributed ledger technology as an asset in the delivery of public services. It represents a new opportunity for the creation of natively digital public services, building off a substantial policy framework. Blockchain for democratic Government applications can improve public services, service delivery, and a public organisation’s capacity, potentially reimagining the social contract completely. A new social contract where everyone gets the chance to fulfil their potential.

“The flourishing Blockchain ecosystem across the four nations, mapped in this report, needs to be supported and regulated by Governments. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain, of which I am the chair, will continue to work to ensure that both industry and society benefit from the full potential of Blockchain, and no one is left behind.

Alex Creshnev, Director of Deep knowledge Analytics, said:

“In our report, Blockchain Industry in the “UK Landscape Overview 2021: Companies, Investors, Influencers and Trends”, we provide an extensive overview of the Digital Ecosystem in the UK to help you understand Blockchain’s true potential. It lays its foundation on a deep analysis of 520 companies, 250 investors (who invested £1.6+ billion into Blockchain), 50 hubs (including think tanks, tech-hubs and events) and 15 Government agencies.

“Based on the open-access data, we considered only companies that are visible to the public and have highlighted their blockchain solutions on their official websites within services/technologies and news (internal as well as external).



The 2021 analysis and report identify and profile 520 Blockchain-centric companies across 18 blockchain sectors and 50 cities in the UK. These sectors include fintech, crypto trading, energy, art and more. The 2021 UK Blockchain landscape overview in particular breaks down, on a company-by-company basis, more than £1.6 billion worth of investments (from 250 investors) into the UK blockchain companies. Additionally, it profiles hundreds of UK blockchain experts across industry, academia, and policy. It also maps 45 blockchain-centric hubs including R&D centres, think tanks and Blockchain event companies as well as 15 Blockchain-friendly governmental, regulatory & standardisation bodies that create Blockchain initiatives.

It includes everything from blockchain investment and adoption into FinTech, Energy, Legal, Health and gov tech and much more. The report also provides a brief rundown of the cryptocurrency market and developments in the decentralised finance sector (DeFi) in the UK.

The majority of the investments in the UK Blockchain space have been into Fintech (17%) and Crypto Trading (14%) companies. Investment into Gov-tech (2.3%) and Insur-tech (1.7%) is much lower. The relatively small investment in Blockchain Gov-tech indicates how there is still underinvestment in public-purpose government sectors compared to the huge potential. But we can still identify 15 government agencies involved in Blockchain initiatives including the Department of Works and Pensions, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for International Development. The UK Government’s £20M GovTech Fund must catalyse some of these opportunities, but there is a need for more.

We see how the UK and in particular London is becoming a true innovation and investment epicentre for everything Blockchain, but the government needs to cement this position. 450 out of the UK’s 520 Blockchain companies are in London. One could conclude that the entrepreneurial Blockchain community is located close to the finance that is needed to grow it. London – being Europe’s financial centre – is now also innovating a new financial ecosystem and blockchain adoption.

Thus, the UK’s Blockchain innovation and investment ecosystem is becoming a magnet for entrepreneurial finance. This is because the UK has a highly integrated blockchain innovation ecosystem of talent based on a strong blockchain science base, a leading blockchain technology foundation and a talented entrepreneurial community which is closing the gap between the UK’s Blockchain research base and Blockchain market-adoption, as well as between the growing Blockchain industry and entrepreneurial finance.

Blockchain applications are moving beyond proof of concept into use. Financial services have made great strides in delivering on the promise of blockchain innovation, and we identify many application use-cases from art, fintech and energy sectors, including public-purpose Blockchain applications for sustainability, the environment, and COVID-19. Additionally, Blockchain tokens and digital assets are also being adopted into the creative industries.

Finally, UK Blockchain entrepreneurship, talent and investment is in close proximity to regulators. We find a considerable increase in sophistication and attention at the highest levels of firms in this space, including new growth. This is accompanied with increasing regulatory engagement in this space, including the FCA (financial fiscal authority) Sandbox and the Cryptoassets taskforce, as well as the recent Bank of England consultation on Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs). The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain (APPG Blockchain) functions as the permanent authoritative voice within UK Parliament (The House of Commons and The House of Lords) on all Blockchain-related matters, while engaging with this entire network to bring experts and use-cases to inform parliamentarians.



Big Innovation Centre is a UK-based think-tank and technology consultancy, and Secretariat for the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain

Deep Knowledge Analytics is a UK-based analytics company specialised in interactive mind-maps with deep dives

Greengage is a fintech company focusing on bridging traditional finance with new digital technologies.

Contacts for media enquiries

Birgitte Andersen / +44 (0) 7944 783648

Sean Kiernan / + 44 (0) 7537 173707

Facebook Whistleblower and Online Abuse

Featuring CEO Birgitte Andersen being interviewed by BBC World and Aaron Heslehurst for the lead story on Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen while she gives evidence in UK Parliament. It is ahead of major new laws to tackle online abuse.

Professor Birgitte Andersen explains Frances Haugen’s comment on “Profit over People” and how it still matters despite Facebook didn’t do anything illegal. 

– Watch Birgitte’s comment on “A social experiment for profit over people!” 

How mobile phones and wearable technology are transforming healthcare

This article is a provocation by our CEO Professor Birgitte Andersen in The New Statesman magazine for the UK Political Party conferences 2021.

The full text of the article is below:

How mobile phones and wearable technology are transforming healthcare

From telehealth apps to sleeptech, emerging technologies are revolutionising the patient experience.

By Professor Birgitte Andersen

A country’s health is a key indicator of its economic vitality. This has been demonstrated by the pandemic – where there is poor health, there is a poor economy.

The global health industry is growing rapidly. But the most dynamic area of expansion is not in traditional health services; it is in mobile health (mHealth), with apps delivering services to mobile phone and tablet users, and wearable technology, from smartwatches to pacemakers.

This is now a multi-billion-dollar industry with hundreds of millions of users. Big Innovation Centre’s Global mHealth Industry Landscape Overview (with Deep Knowledge Analytics) of 260 high-tech mHealth apps companies shows a total of $5bn of investment from 330 investors by the turn of 2021.

The scope of mHealth services is increasing. The industry encompasses multiple apps and platforms in telehealth, femtech and sleeptech, aiding mental health, diet and nutrition, diagnostics and much, much more. Many have become familiar with mHealth through the NHS Covid-19 app, which helped contact tracers control the spread. Technological sophistication is improving exponentially, with the increased use of AI on mobiles aiding the personalisation of services.

Covid-19 has been just one driver of transformative change in the health sector. There are several major factors behind the rise in mHealth globally, not least the constraints felt by healthcare systems struggling to cater for ageing populations. It can provide sustainable solutions for cash-strapped services subject to demographic pressures.

The industry has already taken off in the developing world (e.g. Asia and Africa), where high population growth, a high burden of disease prevalence, a small healthcare workforce, a large number of rural inhabitants, limited financial resources, and high mobile penetration to a large segment of the population has created the ideal conditions for an mHealth boom.

But now Covid-19 has provided an opportunity to reshape the possibilities of mHealth in the developed world and the UK. The spread of the pandemic and ensuing struggles with hospital capacity, stretched NHS workforces, and poor government information systems have shone a light on the need for a modern, innovative, digitised healthcare system.

It is up to the government to facilitate this, and focus on transformation and technological reform rather than getting bogged down in debates about increasing National Insurance to support an outdated health infrastructure.

Our relationship with mHealth is likely to change as AI, blockchain and the internet of things all grow in prominence. Now effort is needed from industry and government to take advantage of private investment that can increase the scope of public health services. This means that the public and private sector will need to work to stimulate the mHealth innovation ecosystem, as well as monitoring what is available and integrating the best into the NHS.

The government’s focus on public health needs to acknowledge the advantages that mHealth services can bring. It should push for speedy adoption in the NHS and understand the importance of coinvestment. The health industry is changing, and mHealth will be key for us all to enjoy a healthier and more prosperous life for longer.

Professor Birgitte Andersen is CEO of Big Innovation Centre

Big Innovation Centre is a think tank and innovation-communications consultancy. Join their networks at


Apple’s Objection To New EU Rule For Universal Phone Chargers

BBC World News TV interviews Professor Birgitte Andersen, CEO of the Big Innovation Centre

Professor Birgitte Andersen, CEO of the Big Innovation Centre, spoke with BBC World News about the new rule proposed by the European Commission for a universal charger solution for phones and other small electronic devices. Apple has already put forward their objection against this rule. 

Birgitte explains the different facets of this story in a live interview with presenter Christian Fraser focusing on the current debate on electronic e-waste, innovation, competition, and international standard-setting.

Post-COVID-19, Bitcoin & Co May Help UK Escape from Economic Funk

The article states how the UK government embracing crypto is minimal despite the economic opportunity. However, it also features how APPG Blockchain (Big Innovation Centre is the Secretariat) indicates a sign of support.

Full text of the article – y

Post-COVID-19, Bitcoin & Co May Help UK Escape from Economic Funk

  • UK GDP slowed by almost 10% in 2020, and that there is a USD 84bn hole that needs plugging.
  • The chances of the government embracing crypto are minimal, but some private sector players are cautiously optimistic.

After the UK’s decidedly mixed response to the coronavirus pandemic, the nation has proven something of a frontrunner in all things vaccine-related, leading it to start easing out of its latest two-month-plus national lockdown on March 8 ahead of its European counterparts – almost a year since the country began its first lockdown. (Updated at UTC 12:22 on March 15, 2022, with a correction relating to details of an interviewee’s background)

The economic story since Spring 2020 has proven to be full of woe, and last week the British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivered a budget that attempted to plug the gaping chasm in the UK economy. Included were delayed tax rises, increased government borrowing, an extension of the furlough project, corporate rates rises and yet more short-term public spending.

The budget has already been on the end of stern criticism from the influential economic think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) calling some of Sunak’s measures “unanswerable,” per the Guardian.

Later, the IFS was harsher still, labeling the Chancellor “Scrooge Sunak” after the budget also unveiled government plans to slash spending in the longer term, reported the BBC.

Even ex-Prime Minister Theresa May waded into the debate. Per Sky News, May claimed that the budget had neglected the innovation and research & development sectors.

Sunak, it appears, is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t – and it all points to a bigger problem identified last month and before – the fact that Office of National Statistics data shows GDP slowed by almost 10% in 2020, and that there is a USD 84bn hole that needs plugging, per Bloomberg.

With Brexit still driving economic uncertainty in the UK, some might argue that the country badly needs a growth engine, ideally one based on new technology, and with the power to disrupt the existing financial sector, which London ruled the roost over during the European Union era.

Some might argue that such a growth engine already exists, if the government will only be brave enough to embrace it: crypto.

Financial capital

Many of Europe’s biggest crypto ventures have set up shop in the UK (although some have admitted mulling a departure for the mainland in the wake of Brexit). And as the natural center of gravity for the continent’s financial activity, the UK has reaped economic rewards for centuries.

Writing in December last year, the Financial Times put it thusly:

“London is a hub for trading currencies and interest rate derivatives. Its location allows traders to catch the end of the Asian day and the opening on Wall Street. The good fortune of geography is underpinned by high-quality tech infrastructure.”

These reasons and more have helped the UK crypto industry, as well as the fintech and blockchain sectors, to grow into potential world-beaters.

Sunak himself is an investment veteran, and has considerable experience working with cutting-edge Silicon Valley companies.

In November last year, his department wrote about tweaking the “UK’s listings regime” in a bid to attract the most innovative firms,” as well as “leading the global conversation on new technologies like stablecoins and Central Bank Digital Currencies.” There is, it would seem, at least some hope for the crypto sector.

But the government stands at a crossroads. Across the pond in the USA, the UK’s closest ally, the Treasury chief Janet Yellen is still speaking darkly about crypto and its alleged crime links. Meanwhile, others are starting to reap the benefits of a more relaxed attitude – Switzerland and Singapore, for instance.

Is there any chance that British parliamentarians could follow these countries’ lead, rather than Washington’s?

Don’t hold your breath, say some.

Olinga Taeed is a blockchain-specializing professor at Birmingham City University’s Faculty of Business, Law and Social Sciences, an advisor to the Chinese government and the newly appointed Blockchain Advisor at the London Stock Exchange-listed oil and gas firm Wildcat Petroleum. He told that the chances of the government embracing crypto are minimal.

He pointed out that a few “very nascent indications in the UK of government support” had already emerged, including the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Blockchain, chaired by the Scottish National Party MP Martin Docherty-Hughes, and comprising Conservative, Labour, and cross-bench MPs and peers. But Taeed pointed out that the group was “now over two years old.”

However, he reminded that the crypto market is worth “just now in 2021 over GBP 1 trillion [USD 1.4 trn] worldwide, with [major] exchange, Binance transacting USD 30bn [per day].” And that means crypto is little more than small fry for top-level British financiers.

He said,

“In the UK alone, the government deals with transactions of [USD 534 billion] a day in cash, so bitcoin (BTC), for example, is only a rounding error as a replacement for cash.”

And as “legacy banking systems” are already coming up with speed and immediacy solutions, Taeed stated that “there is no reason why the UK government would change their views outlined by the [regulatory] Financial Conduct Authority,” whose “view of cryptocurrency” is “less severe and more agnostic” than the American Securities and Exchanges Commission, but “nevertheless still not particularly supportive.”

Instead, he claimed that “institutional play” in bitcoin “will continue” in the Tesla mold, although “much more conservative British companies will be more hesitant to use news flow as a direct instrument.”

Of his own recent appointment, Taeed stated that it was “a sign of things to come as mainstream companies adopt these technologies.”

Quiet confidence

Some private sector players, however, are cautiously optimistic. Leanne Kemp, the founder and CEO of the UK-based, Tencent-backed crypto player Everledger pointed out that the British Treasury Department “has made bold predictions about the growth of the fintech industry, stating that the number of firms in the UK would double to 3,200 by 2030.”

Kemp said that the UK is “already a global leader in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, software development, IoT, climate tech and blockchain,” adding: “That’s what attracted Everledger to London when we set out in 2015.”

She added that “in our experience,” the government has shown that it is “open to supporting the scaleup of emerging technology.” She continued: “Founders want to be at the cutting edge of disruptive tech and the UK offers that.”

Kemp added,

“Traceability of goods is a growth opportunity for the UK in a post-Brexit and post-pandemic world. Blockchain, together with other technologies like IoT, can potentially help with the passage of cargo coming in and out of the EU and Northern Ireland, and reduce freight issues at the border.”

Indeed, Kemp suggested that the UK could seize the initiative, building on a thus far successful vaccine rollout. She said,

“Blockchain and IoT solutions might also help in keeping track of vaccine and personal protective equipment (PPE) distribution, ensuring vital traceability to this key supply chain, not least as the UK starts to share billions of doses of the Oxford UniversityAstraZeneca vaccine with the rest of the world.”

Meanwhile, Greg Murphy, the Director of Enterprise Development at the security token platform Polymath – and the former CEO and founder of the FCA-regulated Lakeshore Capital – told that the British government and regulators “have done a great job in fostering growth in the crypto/digital asset area by being at the forefront of embracing distributed ledger technology, especially for securities.”

He added,

“[The government has] realized the democratization, compliance and efficiency benefits that can be achieved in its use in capital markets, which is promising for the industry’s growth.”

Murphy also opined that politicians and regulators have been “remarkably encouraging” by demonstrating the “foresight to investigate the adaptation of regulation for the technology, rather than forcing the application of old frameworks.”

And what of B2C operators? Some cautious positivity seems to exist here, too.

Simon Peters, a UK-based cryptoasset analyst at the investment platform eToro, told that “as investors look beyond the plight of” the pandemic, 2021 “will be remembered as a landmark year for the crypto sector and an opportune moment to have entered the space.”
Peters added that the financial giants Mastercard and BNY Mellon’s involvement in the crypto and blockchain space was “a sure-fire sign of growth potential,” and opined that “other listed companies, both in the UK and internationally, will shortly follow suit.”

Peters pointed out that, per his firm’s own research, market capitalization is still in need of a boost – and that industry players believe “improved infrastructure and greater regulatory clarity.”

He concluded,

“These are the objectives that will define the industry’s development in the next few years and drive crypto ever closer to mainstream adoption.”

So the question of whether Sunak and co will decide to provide this much-needed regulation and infrastructure – and take the punt on crypto – appears to remain wide open.

In normal times, a pro-business Conservative government could be expected to let businesses grow organically, and handle market-related matters with but the gentlest of touches. But these times, as Sunak, his boss Boris Johnson and others keep reminding the nation, are anything but normal.

Waiting for a clear picture on facial recognition policy

This article is a provocation by our CEO Professor Birgitte Andersen in The New Statesman magazine for the UK Political Party conferences 2020.

The full text of the article is below:

Waiting for a clear picture on facial recognition policy

New technology needs a robust regulatory framework to thrive

By Professor Birgitte Andersen


Facial recognition is changing e-commerce so quickly that in parts of the world you can now pay with your face. In 2018, an Alibaba fintech affiliate began trialling a system called Smile to Pay. Google and Amazon have begun to explore similar technologies, but privacy concerns in the United States and the European Union have held back its development.

There are cameras everywhere – on our streets, transport, where you work, in our homes and on your computer and smartphone. The technology now allows cameras to recognise your face, and even your emotions or presumed state of mind.

Facial recognition is convenient for unlocking your mobile phone using its inbuilt camera, and fun for digital games where children apply face filter technologies. But when applied to policing, on public transport and football grounds, or in shops for marketing purposes, we are in an entirely different situation with new opportunities and challenges.

The United Kingdom’s dilemma

Facial recognition technology is now already being developed and used in major economic centres and regions around the globe. These places are building accurate technologies from collecting billions of pieces of data. If we in the UK stop the use of facial recognition, we will be trapped in the vicious circle of having neither data nor research and development incentives for our developers to innovate real, world-class, high-spec and safe solutions. So, the UK’s entrepreneurs will fall behind, and once regulation is in place our foreign competitors will have superior solutions. But if we go ahead and use facial recognition now, our regulatory system is not wellplaced to safeguard citizens, as we do not have enough data collected to train our cameras for safe use.

To turn this vicious circle into a virtuous cycle, UK policymakers must be decisive on the “purposeful use” and limits of such facial recognition technologies, and the underpinning “data governance”. Big Innovation Centre is hosting the UK debate around this and other emerging technologies such as AI, blockchain and digital health.

Public and private institutions and businesses must be transparent about where facial and emotional recognition technologies are deployed and for what purpose, what kind of data they collect, and how they are processed and stored. Transparency is paramount.

Data protection and antidiscrimination must be guaranteed in deploying facial and emotional recognition technologies. These must be used in such a way that protects citizens’ privacy and does not reinforce societal prejudices or exploit vulnerable groups and individuals.

Our policymakers must now decide on a clear and concise regulatory framework to ensure fair and safe use of facial recognition technologies. Developers and those buying these technologies need to know the agreed standards to secure their investments into our future infrastructure.

Professor Birgitte Andersen is CEO of Big Innovation Centre and secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Groups on Artificial Intelligence (APPG AI) and Blockchain (APPG Blockchain). You can follow her on Twitter @BirgitteBIC, and BIC’s campaign at the UK Political Party Conference, “Will Face & Emotion Recognition Change the UK?” @BigInnovCentre