August 10th, 2012 by Lloyd Gofton
The London debates were billed as London’s intellectual contribution to the Games, and were developed to address major economic, demographic and technological challenges of the 21st century.
Four thought leaders were invited to join London’s Mayor Boris Johnson to consider London’s potential role in developing responses to these key issues globally. They were: Jim O’Neill,Â Saskia Sassen,Â Matt Ridley and on Saturday August 5th it was the turn of Jimmy Wales.
By all accounts Wales did a great job of highlighting the issues that are holding London, and the UK in general, back from further tech development, which was summed up by his quote: “Stay out of the way so that we can build a future.”
His reminder that Wikipedia doesn’t operate web servers in the UK due to the nation’s strict laws on publishing defamatory material and the severe financial penalties involved, was also a personal example of what he feels are real issues that could hold the UK tech sector back.
Of course you could read that statement as a positive or a negative on either the UK or Wikipedia, i.e. the regulation protects UK citizens, rather than restricts business, but one man’s definition of protection is another man’s definition of restriction.
He touched on the UK’s culture of negativity towards the rich and almost apologetic response to success, which may hold us back. He also focused in on the Government’s talk of encouraging growth in the tech sector, while at the same time passing laws that make it difficult for companies to take risks.
“There is an intimate connection between innovation prosperity and freedom. In order to have innovation you need a culture of freedom. The UK is relatively free but there are troubling intrusions,” Specifically mentioning the UK’s libel laws and: “The silly nonsense around the EU cookie directive. That may have seemed a good idea to let people know a decade ago.
“I’m mind boggled that we have this silly regulation to let people know. They can turn it off in their browser but guess what? Most of the internet won’t work.”
I think he has a real point, the regulation that has been set up to protect our citizens is also weakening the position of our companies and discouraging major organisations from setting up, or expanding in the UK.
There are very good counter arguments to this issue of course, but in the debate on business and especially growth there is a real fear that these often overly protectionist moves are having a negative effect on development.
You can read more about the session on Jamillah Knowles’ round up on The Next Web, and as she mentioned: “Wales is enthusiastic about the social aspects of Silicon Roundabout and the attention brought to Tech City, he feels that facilitating social processes by encouraging a hub to work in creates a fertile atmosphere for business”… which shows promise.