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Theresa May's Industrial Strategy Will Only Succeed With STEAM Power

10/02/2017 15:17

I was ready to welcome Theresa May's Industrial Strategy as a welcome vote of confidence amid the turmoil of Brexit. Sure enough, a $5bn commitment to artificial intelligence, robotics and smart energy is an exciting prospect - but it's only half the story.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics - STEM disciplines - are the backbone of tech innovation. Yet, bringing tech such as AI from the lab to the home calls for a selection of experts who are not always part of the equation.

After all, tech doesn't simply drop into our lives. It takes the skills of designers and writers combined to produce applications that work with us and improve our experience of the world around us.

So why overlook them in a strategy designed to make the UK a global hub of innovation?

The time has come to augment STEM disciplines with an 'artistic' element, more STEAM than STEM, perhaps.

Acronyms aside, the need is clear: in a few short years, our phones became the center of our lives and then chat apps became the center of our mobile lives.

In China, WeChat dominates mobile services and the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Google are rushing to emulate that success in western markets. It's no surprise that these players are all using chat interfaces to do this - what better format to engage audiences than by emulating natural conversation?

That's not solely the work of smart tech, but also of smart creatives to bring it to life.

If more proof were needed, look at Google's recent hires for its AI assistant: comedy writers from Pixar and The Onion. Virtual personal assistant X.ai must hire from the comedy pool, too - its bot draws on the improv technique "Yes, and" to make its interactions feel more human.

User experience is a nuanced field, and changing all the time. It certainly shouldn't be separate from the tech itself.

But it's down to both business and government to make this blend happen. London is a perfect example - a world class melting pot of design agencies, tech specialists and business expertise.

Yet the rest of the UK has more to offer. London-centric companies may need to take a look around: see Cambridge, the AI heartland right on their doorstep. A little further afield the media powerhouses of Bristol and Manchester have a wealth of expertise to offer, too.

Theresa May's proposal is a necessary shot in the arm for UK plc., but I'm looking forward to a sustained effort across the industry, uniting technical and creative expertise in tandem. Without that, we may yet run out of steam.

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