The recent spat between Gary Shapiro, the organiser of CES, and the UK government, is, on the face of it, a pretty small thing.
The UK government has, if the state of the NHS is an indication, not got a lot of spare cash to go throwing at smart fridge start-ups who want to pay the eye-watering costs of getting to and from Vegas to have a stand. And Gary Shapiro has a pretty clear interest in getting more start-ups to come to his show, rather than the cheaper and perhaps more traditionally start-up friendly SXSW.
But Mr Shapiro definitely has a point when he highlights that other countries are investing not only money, but also influential ambassadors and political support. It’s about "political leadership and showing up," he says.
The fact of the matter is that the current administration has a less than clear point of view on the role that technology might play in the future success of the country, despite the UK having an immensely rich culture of innovation, particularly in fields such as AI and FinTech.
The Obama administration has been very vocal and directional recently in the way that it highlighted the threats and opportunities the world of automation and AI will bring to the US. France – long considered a nation behind the curve of tech – has a massive and coordinated programme called "Le French Tech", but the UK response has been very muted in comparison.
A select committee report of the threats of AI and a slightly fading interest in the Old Street Roundabout, just won’t cut it and it remains to be seen if this year’s SXSW gets the same level of support from UKTI as it did last year.
The real question I guess is why should we as marketing people care? We have our own industry to worry about and our own government support to lobby for.
There are three key reasons why we should be concerned:
1. The effect technology is going to have on society as a whole is something our government needs to have a stronger point of view about. It is the silent force that drives the fear of progression that so many voters worry about and react against. It might be algorithms, not immigrants, that become the next focus of fear and we as marketers need to be aware of that.
2. Technology and marketing have become so intertwined that the marketing of our industry is fast colliding with the marketing of technology. Witness initiatives like Creative England that span film making, gaming and tech.
3. We might very well be able to help the government support our innovators by partnering with them and promoting them. We need a Great British Tech campaign as much as we need one for our more obviously creative exports too.
It might be that the government – preoccupied with Brexit and how to navigate the post-truth, post-Obama world of Trump – will leave it to others to support our innovators entirely. That feels like an opportunity our industry should grab with both hands before someone else does.
Our ability to connect the motivating, transformative power of creativity with new technologies will provide the best showcase of the UK’s innovation talents and provide the public at large with the most positive, enjoyable experiences of new technology as possible.
Paying for start-ups to go to Vegas is one way to get them noticed, putting their technologies into the hands and minds of the country’s and world’s consumers is surely another much more scalable solution entirely.
Lawrence Weber is the managing partner of innovation at Karmarama and Accenture Interactive company.