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Homegrown AI brilliance is key to ending UK's long stagnation

The potential of Wayve’s technology is vast if it becomes commercially viable. No wonder Rishi Sunak was so keen to jump on the funding announcement.  (Getty Images)
The potential of Wayve’s technology is vast if it becomes commercially viable. No wonder Rishi Sunak was so keen to jump on the funding announcement. (Getty Images)

If you are looking for a glimpse of how Britain’s economy may thrive and break free of its slow growth shackles in the future, then turn your gaze to York Way, a fairly nondescript street than runs from the platforms of King’s Cross station up to the former Metropolitan Cattle Market at Caledonian Park.

Roughly halfway up this road is the headquarters of perhaps the most important UK tech company you have never heard of, until now.

It was announced yesterday that Wayve Technologies — born at Cambridge University and based at 230-238 York Way — has raised more than $1 billion in a series C investment round, the biggest ever financing of a European AI company.

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Wayve, which was only founded in 2017, is pioneering autonomous driving AI that can be embodied in the next generation of self-driving cars. In very simple terms, the technology gives the car a “driving brain” that will allow it to fully anticipate and avoid hazards. In theory the human “driver” could fall asleep at the wheel on public roads and be perfectly safe.

The potential of the technology is vast if it becomes commercially viable and is adopted by leading manufacturers when autonomous driving finally become a reality, as eventually it must.

No wonder Rishi Sunak was so keen to jump on the announcement.

The funding was led by Japan’s Softbank, owner of another star of British tech, ARM, with significant contributions from two American AI giants, existing investor Microsoft and new investor Nvidia.

It is a heady combination, pioneering AI developed at one of Britain’s world class centres of learning, and backed by Asian and US capital — and all brought together in a scruffy backwater of north London.

It is what I think of as the “Enigma model” harnessing the inventive brilliance that has been a hallmark of Britain’s brightest minds for centuries — and helped win the Second World War.