There’s a great scene in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film, Wall Street, where Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas is giving a pep talk to his protégé, Bud Fox, as the former watches the sun rise over Manhattan from the beach at his Long Island home. It’s a great scene, where the imagery of power and limitless opportunity is conveyed by the dawn-lit setting and the sight of one small man alone and yet plugged into the nation’s business world by his mobile phone. A ‘master of the universe’ as Tom Wolfe’s hero from Bonfire of the Vanities, his novel of the same year was described.
And yet it’s hard not to smile when we see that beach scene 28 years on. Why? Because Gekko’s mobile phone is not much shorter than his whole forearm, and about twice as thick. It’s as if he’s talking into a toaster.
So things have come a long way since the dawn of mobile technology. The internet connected eco-system – that’s to say, the new way of doing things in all areas of business and social activity that is driving the “Internet of Things” or the “Internet of Everything”, if you prefer, is surging ahead at a rate that seems breath-taking to consumers, developers and regulators alike.
So it’s good to take stock from time to time, and try to bring together developments into one place, the better to see where we’ve got to and, most importantly, where we hope to be going. I’m attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week to do just that.
It’s a timely event because the British contribution to this is huge – there’s a 95 per cent chance, for example, that the mobile in your pocket uses UK-developed technology – and has the potential to be greater still.
That’s because developers of new mobile technology know that the success of the systems of delivery – and this is true in many other areas of commerce, I know – depend crucially on the content they carry. And, as I and many others have said many times before, the creation of content is very much our long suit. Whether it’s games creation, post-production, original film and music making or simply the out-of-the-box ideas and concepts that drive everything else – we’re fantastically good at them all.
But it goes further than that, of course. To put it bluntly: we’ve got form. In the UK we have a strong history of innovation, from Alan Turing, the “father of algorithms”, to Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web. And we have world leading computer science departments, technology businesses, a pioneering approach to open data and transparency and knowledgeable and sophisticated technology consumers.
Innovation has been part of our identity as a nation for centuries. And it should thus come as no surprise that UK technology companies are providing key vital components that speed up the rate of product development and so drive global demand.
I hope that the Barcelona congress will confirm to everyone that attends – and that’s likely to be around 50,000 people from that world, I’m told – that the UK is a global centre of excellence for communications. Vital technologies from the UK are powering the world’s communication devices and revolutionising the way we operate and communicate – both in our business and private lives.
I’m really proud of the UK’s reputation in this, and I’ll be even more so to support our brilliant businesses in Spain this week.