“An example of good industrial policy” (via @stianwestlake)

Stian Westlake at nesta flags up the driver-less cars test bed announced today as “an example of good industrial policy“.

What does Stian like about the policy?

  • Proving a potentially transformative technology. As Stian says, “We need some real-world experimentation. (I blogged about this a few months ago.) You can demo a robotic car in a lab, and test it in isolation on a track or with special permission on a street. But you can only understand the social implications of a technology when you release it into the real world…A test-bed can do this.”
  • The UK is building on others’ investment, not trying to play catch-up. The Government, with a relatively little pot of money (£10mn versus the billions that Stian rightly says steals the Budget & Autumn Statement headlines), isn’t trying to replicate or duplicate what Google and others have done. Rather it is facilitating tests to understand the social, legal and practical implications of the technology.
  • “the state enabling experiments and learning from the results” Government isn’t picking winners, just facilitating the race in a way that benefits the UK. 

Stian’s post is worth a read, in particular on the way in which trials and experimenting could facilitate learning about how new technologies work in the real world.

I’d also flag up a bit of his post that is worth thinking about: the role of DARPA in running a $2mn Grand Challenge to design an autonomous vehicle.

Problem/challenge-led – and defence funded – innovation prize that stimulated academic and private sector investment in a potentially transformative technology.

As Stian points out, the DARPA prize was won by Stanford academic that was later hired by Google.

This isn’t yet another plea for a UK version of DARPA. Rather a reminder that challenge-led funding and defence-initiative innovation could be examples of good industrial policy too.

(And apologies to Stian for quoting extensively from his very good post!!!)