Investing in artificial intelligence will help the British economy fight its way out of the pandemic recession generating £200 billion a year, its finance minister has said.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, promised to boost the economy by creating 2,000 scholarships and doubling the number of research fellows in the AI field.
In a speech that was high on optimism, he promised to make Britain become “the most exciting place on the planet” by introducing advanced technology initiatives.
There was also a suggestion that by presenting a sunny future at the Conservative Party conference, Mr Sunak was placing himself at the front of the pack to become prime minister whenever Boris Johnson departs.
He spoke of the years he spent in California “working with some of the most innovative and exciting people” and watching “ideas becoming a reality”.
Mr Sunak, 41, also talked about the US West Coast rewarding hard work, its openness to talent and of being “unafraid to challenge itself”.
Bringing that Californian vision to Britain, he laid out the building blocks with the AI investment.
“If artificial intelligence were to contribute just the average productivity increase ... that would be worth around £200bn [$272.35bn] a year to our economy.”
In perhaps a swipe at his main leadership rival Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who voted against Brexit, Mr Sunak, 41, said he took the risk of ending his political career by “putting my principles first” and voting to leave the European Union.
He said he had backed Brexit because a Britain with fewer regulations would have the “agility and flexibility” that would “renew the culture of enterprise”.
“The willingness to take risks and be imaginative ... it would inspire changes in the way we do things at home,” he said. “Brexit was never just about the things we couldn’t do. It was also about the things we didn’t do.”
Having increased Britain’s debt by £407 billion to keep the economy afloat during the pandemic, Mr Sunak asserted that more borrowing would be “stacking up bills for future generations to pay”, “economically irresponsible” and “immoral”.
His remarks were intended to justify the 1.25 per cent rise in the National Insurance tax.
“Yes, I want tax cuts,” he said. “But in order to do that, our public finances must be put back on a sustainable footing.”
He also confirmed the government would increase spending on employment programmes, announcing a £500 million “plan for jobs”.
Mr Sunak was relentless in bringing an upbeat note in his speech.
“We are going to make this country, not just a science superpower, not just the best place in the world to do business,” he told the audience in Manchester. “I believe we are going to make the United Kingdom the most exciting place on the planet.”