June 23, 2023

'I don’t know what the precise answer is': Inside Tony Blair’s vision for an AI-powered Britain

This week on the podcast, the former UK prime minister discusses his plans for AI

Steph Bailey

2 min read

This month, former UK prime minister Tony Blair and former Conservative leader William Hague published a joint report on how the UK can become a leader in AI. 

This week on Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast, Tony Blair sat down with Sifted senior reporter Tim Smith to discuss his plans.

'This is incredibly difficult, difficult stuff'

Blair compared the developments in AI today to the industrial revolution of the 19th century. But, he said, politics can take a long time to catch up with real-life advances in tech and can wind up adding hurdles rather than helping realise potential benefits. 


“The risk is now politics takes a long time to catch up with reality,” he said. “The reason for it is that you require as a policymaker a completely different mindset and you’ve got to have at least enough knowledge to be able to understand the questions you should ask.

“Politicians will just be driven by what happens to be in the news at any one day, and you get a situation where you get a really ugly case and then you regulate and you find you’ve actually cut down the opportunity for people.”

He added that his view is that the potential benefits of AI — such as providing bespoke education and the delivery of public services — are “huge”, despite concerns with safety and privacy. 

“In the end I’ve got no doubt that we will move to a situation where you have a national data infrastructure system, where you are analysing that data and making use of it,” he said.

While Blair doesn’t yet know what “the precise answer” is to problems such as deepfakes and hallucinations — which is where a chatbot such as OpenAI's ChatGPT includes spurious claims in the answers it provides to users — he suggested creating a “national laboratory” where experts collect their knowledge together.

“Put the changemakers and the policymakers in a deep conversation together,” he said. “We’re trying to suggest that here is a way of having that dialogue, understanding how you might be able to regulate it, and then you’ve got a better chance of getting the regulation right.” 

On this episode, we were also joined by Zoe Hewitt, talent director in Europe for the US VC firm Sequoia, who shared insights into its latest report on where Europe's engineering talent is in Europe.

And in our news roundup, we covered:

Listen to the Sifted Podcast on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Steph Bailey

Steph Bailey is head of content at Sifted. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn