Good evening Ladies & Gentlemen
It’s a great pleasure to be here with you all tonight. Tech conferences aren’t perhaps the normal habitat of diplomats. And you might be wondering what a Brit is doing talking to you as you gather here in Kolkata.
So let me take as my starting point something quintessentially British and entirely non-technical. A strawberry. Now, at Wimbledon, during the fortnight of the All England Tennis Championship which concluded recently, an astonishing 28,000 Kg of strawberries were consumed. That’s a lot of strawberries.
But a single, individual strawberry weighs about 50 grams. And that, according to some physicists far smarter than me, just happens to be the weight of all of the billions and billions of data-moving electrons whizzing around the internet at any one time.
Yes, that’s right, apparently the internet weighs the same as a strawberry. A rather more impressive fact about the internet is that it requires approximately 50 million horsepower in electricity to run. Or that it has over 2.4 billion users globally, more than a third of the world’s population.
But another fact is that the World Wide Web – which is what most people think of when they think of the internet – was invented by a GREAT British innovator, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. You may have seen him being honoured at the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games two years ago this month.
In the way that it has changed the world and transformed the way people communicate and interact, many have compared the internet to that technological breakthrough of the 19th century, the steam engine. That, of course, was also a GREAT British innovation.
Now you’ll have seen this word GREAT on the visuals we are using tonight. It’s all part of something that we call the GREAT campaign. Its message is pretty simple: Britain is GREAT. We are proud of our past and confident of our future. And we want to celebrate the things that make the United Kingdom great.
One of those things – a really important one in fact – is innovation.
Innovation has been in our DNA since long before Nobel prize-winning British scientist Francis Crick told the world about its double-helix structure. Things invented by the Brits include world-changing items as diverse as penicillin and the pencil, the jet engine and bungee jumping. Brits invented the telephone, the television, radar, and SMS messaging. We can also claim evolution, gravity, longitude and the Higgs Boson particle. And, perhaps the most important breakthrough of all for world happiness, a Brit invented the chocolate bar.
There have been so many GREAT British innovations in the last hundred years alone, that the GREAT campaign decided to support a GREAT British Innovation vote to see what our public thought was the most important British innovation of the past century. The Great vote listed British innovations in theory, scientific understanding, engineering and technology and was launched quite appropriately by British scientist Prof Stephen Hawking of the University of Cambridge.
When all the votes were counted, the innovation that came out on top was a device imagined in a 1936 paper called “On computable numbers” by a World War II code breaker and mathematician by the name of Alan Turing. Turing’s device, which he called a “universal machine” could read symbols on a tape which could be used to program the machine. This, of course, was the theoretical basis for all modern computers as we know today.
And among the many British innovations that were named by the voting public, there were several others that should resonate with an IT audience like this one:
While with the retirement of Concorde – itself a GREAT British innovation –travelling from London to New York still takes 7 hours for human beings, for data the distance can be covered in a split second thanks to optical fibres which channelize pulses of laser light. Sir Charles Kuen Kao, a British citizen who you may know as the ‘Father of Fibre Optic Communications’, and who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2009, developed the first practical optical-fibre communication system while working with a team in the UK in 1966. Fibre Optics is a GREAT British innovation.
Holography – the creation of holograms – was invented by Dennis Gabor in 1947 while working in the British Thomson-Houston company which earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics. Exciting new uses are being found all the time for holography technology, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaigning by hologram in the recent Indian elections an interesting case in point. The hologram is a GREAT British innovation.
We are surrounded by digital displays in our life: clocks, watches, DVD players and computer or TV screens. The liquid crystal display (LCD) technology is a popular choice in many of these. George Gray and his research team at the University of Hull developed LCD technology, making it another GREAT British innovation.
I imagine there are a large number of smartphones and tablets in this room tonight. Most of them have inside them a chip called an ARM (advanced RISC machine) processor which offers low power consumption and high processing speeds and is, as you might have guessed, a GREAT British innovation.
Since I started my remarks tonight with a strawberry, it would be appropriate to end this curated list of British innovations with a raspberry. The Raspberry Pi was created in 2006 by Eben Upton and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory. Sensing a decline in computer literacy and inadequate programming skills in children, they decided to develop a computer that was extremely affordable. The credit card sized device can be plugged directly into a keyboard and television and function much like a home PC. Priced at just $25 it is both a bargain and a GREAT British innovation.
Now, why am I telling you all this?
It is because all this innovation has been a hugely important driver of economic prosperity and growth in the UK. We want it to be just as important for our future. And that means making sure the UK remains a world-leading destination for innovators from across the globe.
We believe our credentials are very strong:
We are the leading leading G20 country in the ‘2013 Global Innovation Index’
We have a world-class academic and research environment
We have a robust system of protecting intellectual property
We have globally-recognised measurement and standards systems that underpin innovation
We have a competitive package of tax and incentives to support innovation
We have a strong supply of skilled employees
And we have a proven business and investment environment
There are eight technology areas which the UK has prioritized for enhanced government and commercial support: two of those - big data and robotics – may be of particular interest to entrepreneurs in this room.
My team at the British Deputy High Commission here in Kolkata is committed to increasing bilateral trade & investment between India and UK through our commercial department UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).
UKTI offers confidential, professional and free services to international companies from all parts of the world that are seeking to access the UK’s world-class science and innovation ecosystem.
My colleagues from UKTI are around the hall today and you can find them tomorrow as well at the UK stand (could the team please identify themselves with a show of hands). I encourage you to talk to them - they can tell you everything you need to know about the best route to invest in the UK.
They can give information on expanding an existing business; help you identify local skills; advise on industry and tech clusters, universities and research institutes; and provide details of our exciting incentives and funding support.
There’s also a UK based immigration law firm, A D Themis, who will be with us for the next few days should you require professional advice on visas and immigration. (could I similarly ask Navinder, the director of the company, to raise his hand for the sake of easier identification).
To conclude let me say how delighted I am that the UK is the partner country for the NASSCOM Product Conclave Kolkata – 2014. Innovation lies at the heart of product development. As I have described, it is an area of real strength for the UK. And as we will see over the coming days it is an area of real strength for India too. That is why we are natural partners in innovation.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.