Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Why tech giants owe huge thanks to the United Kingdom

By entrepreneur Benjamin Southworth, Special to CNN
updated 5:58 AM EDT, Thu May 22, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Technologies we take for granted such as Twitter and Facebook are still young
  • They've transformed the way we operate, but social platforms can end up as "has-beens"
  • British minds are behind some of the most vital innovations in tech's brave new world
  • However, they are complex and we don't celebrate our success like the Americans do

Editor's note: Benjamin Southworth is the co-founder of 3beards, founder of The Ada Lovelace Academy and was formerly the deputy CEO of TechCityUK. He's a board member of the Sunday Assembly, Furtherfield Gallery, Lean Capital and City Meets Tech. Follow Benjamin on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Benjamin Southworth.

London (CNN) -- Over the last 15 years, I've been lucky enough to work in the industry of tech-driven start-ups, and I've watched as revolutions have taken place.

Technologies we now take for granted -- wifi, the iPhone, Twitter and Facebook, for example -- have transformed the way we communicate, do business and even facilitate political upheavals.

Yet they remain youthful technologies. Wifi had its earliest start around 1991, and didn't hit the mainstream until the early 2000s. It's now in every decent coffee shop and threatening to infiltrate the last bastion of un-connectivity -- the London underground.

The United Kingdom is integral in this narrative of global upheaval. But, unlike its American peers, it's shy of celebrating its success.

Benjamin Southworth
Benjamin Southworth

But without the ground-breaking work of UK companies, this brave new world would not be possible.

ARM, a spin-off of the loved but now-defunct Acorn Computers, pioneered the high-speed, low-energy brains that power this revolution.

Without ARM's "reduced instruction set computing" your laptop would barely last a few hours, and would be too hot to keep on. This relatively small company has created such huge opportunity and promise, but the UK barely celebrates them, let alone acknowledge the huge impact they've had on the future of computing.

The UK needs to celebrate its vital role in our new, connected world
Benjamin Southworth

Ever heard of Cambridge Silicon Radio? They create Bluetooth platforms, a technology which is now emerging as a potential way of securing mobile to mobile transactions, revolutionizing advertising and making sure that you're still connected to your phone even when driving.

British brains are also behind many of the greatest innovations. Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web, while Jony Ive is the design guru at Apple.

And it is these British visionaries who are as central to our new world, if not more so, than the social platforms that are part of our everyday conversations.

Consumer technology is all very attractive and tangible: Twitter is immediate; Facebook is ubiquitous. In contrast, ARM, Cambridge Silicon Radio and their peers, like Datasift, Autonomy and Wolfram, are technical, complex and powerful. And hard to make sexy.

In these times of instant gratification, sexy is a necessary condition. However such companies are all products of long-term vision, backed with massive intellectual prowess, creating cutting edge technologies that will remain a core part of the technological future for many, many years.

This stands them apart from Facebook and Twitter. These things are, by their very nature, faddy, nascent, fast to grow and fast to die. MySpace, Friends Reunited and countless others became "also-rans" who didn't keep the consumer's attention beyond a few years.

So, the UK needs to celebrate its vital role in our new, connected world. We're ambitious, dedicated, passionate, diligent and intellectually capable. But we're also refined, genteel and not one to brag about new riches.

That attitude stands in stark contrast to our American peers, who are incredible at creating and monetizing opportunities, then playing to consumers of the digital age -- just as Hollywood did with the silver screen.

They talk themselves up, they champion their industries, and they invest in each other, both financially and in spirit. In short, they are the noisy cousins bragging about their new riches.

We need to stop being distracted by this hype, and instead invest in and recognize our nation of incredible promise and intellectual capacity.

We don't invest enough in academia -- which is why I have established a free school, The Ada Lovelace Academy, to nurture the new generation of entrepreneurs.

Without such investment, we are at risk of failing subsequent generations with an endemic short-termism that doesn't set the stage for the next ARM, CSR, Wolfram or Autonomy to emerge from this green and pleasant land.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Benjamin Southworth.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
The Business View
Nina dos Santos is a news anchor and correspondent based in London. She is the host of CNN International's show The Business View.
updated 10:31 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Pencils have been sharpened, lunch boxes packed, now the bell is ringing. But going back to school is getting more expensive.
updated 11:26 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
The meeting between Russia and Ukraine marks a new phase in the conflict. But as David Clark writes, the West can expect a tense winter.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ambitious plans for a "city in the city" skyscraper that could house apartments, offices, shops and parks have been revealed.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
They have stood quietly among us for centuries, often unnoticed. But now, some of England's historic statues have been given a voice.
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Usually, airstrikes, rebels seizing control of oil fields, plus a severe refugee crisis are a recipe for market panic. So why are Iraq oil prices stable?
updated 8:36 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Europe's deteriorating relationship with Russia has hit the region's growth, even before new food sanctions begin to bite.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Russia's beef with the west has escalated after the country banned foods from a host of Western nations including the U.S., Australia, Canada and those of the European Union.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
At the last soccer World Cup, it was all about 3D. This time around, it's nothing less than 4K.
updated 11:21 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
For months, the West has struggled to take a strong stand against Russia for its incursion into Ukraine. Now, its facing the reality that it will need to suffer too.
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Are Scotland and England better together or apart? Nina dos Santos explores the long relationship ahead of Scotland's vote for independence.
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made history as the country's first directly elected president but his ambitious economic plans could be scuttled by the region's volatile geopolitics.
updated 6:16 AM EDT, Thu August 7, 2014
Turkey's economy, fattened with foreign investment during its boom-times, has stalled amid warnings its model is unsustainable.
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
The West has slapped stringent sanctions on Russia in response to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. But is it still doing trade with Russia in weapons?
updated 7:00 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Forget the new black. This is the real black. You can't see it, or figure out its shape, it's the darkest material in the world.
updated 12:02 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Jibo robot is designed to be an organizer, educator and assist family members. CNN's Maggie Lake met him and says she was impressed with his skills.
updated 12:34 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
With cyberattacks on the rise and here to stay, it's a modern-day challenge for everyone to get smarter about preventing them.
updated 4:44 PM EDT, Tue July 15, 2014
Britain will launch the world's first spaceport outside the U.S., with first space tourists blasting off from the UK as early as 2018.
updated 6:44 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Imagine a skyscraper that cleans the air. You won't have to wait long -- two will soon be built in China.
updated 11:27 AM EDT, Fri June 27, 2014
Who will lead the fractured European Union for the next five years? The question has caused weeks of bickering in already fractured EU.
updated 8:22 AM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
The gas standoff between Russia and Ukraine could have a knock-on effect on Europe. Explore this map to find out why is the EU nervous.
ADVERTISEMENT