Musk on how to turn the UK into a ‘unicorn breeding ground’

If you are generally interested in technology, and are not aware by now of the meeting that took place yesterday between Rishi Sunak and Elon Musk during the UK’s AI Security Summit at Bletchley Park, you have probably been living under a rock.

As others have already commented, the session more resembled a fan meeting, or at the very least a club of mutual admiration, than an actual interview. The PM’s fawning giggles were perhaps not entirely suited to the gravity of the occasion bringing the two together (but hey, who are we to judge). 

You have probably also read Elon Musk‘s statements along the lines of “no work will be necessary in the future,” and that any AI safety conference not including China would have been “pointless.” He also predicted that humans will create deep friendships with AI, once the technology becomes… intelligent enough.

But, perhaps less quote friendly or headline-making material, prompted by a question from the Summit’s selected audience, the tech tycoon also discussed what he believes it would take to shift the culture in the UK so that it could become “a real breeding ground for unicorn companies,” and turn being a founder into a more obvious career choice for technical talent. 

“There should be a bias towards supporting small companies,” Musk said, referring to policy and investment. “Because they are the ones that really need nurturing. The larger companies really don’t need nurturing. You can think of it as a garden — if it’s a little sprout it needs nurturing, if it’s a mighty oak it does not need quite as much.” 

After praising London as a leading centre for AI in the world (behind the San Francisco Bay Area), accompanied by some smug nodding from the PM, Musk added that it would take sufficient infrastructure support. 

“You need landlords that are willing to rent to new companies,” Musk said. “You need law firms and accountants that are willing to support new companies. And that is a mindset change.”

He further stated that he believes culturally, in the UK, this is happening, but people just really need to decide that “this is a good thing.” For Brits to become more comfortable with failing might be a more tricky cultural shift to facilitate. 

“If you don’t succeed with your first startup it shouldn’t be a catastrophic sort of career-ending thing,” Musk mused. “It should be more like ‘ok, you gave it a good shot, and now try again.’

“Most startups fail. You hear about the startups that succeed, but most startups consist of a massive amount of work, followed by failure. So it’s a high-risk high reward situation.”

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