Harnessing AI to boost productivity will top the U.K.’s tech agenda in 2024, as the country’s IT industry and startups try to regain lost momentum, while tech job hunters will have to adapt to a changing market, according to predictions from industry experts. Here are tech predictions for the U.K. in 2024.

AI will bring the U.K. opportunities and risks

The U.K.’s AI strategy is clear: The government sees artificial intelligence as a key way to boost productivity and the sluggish economy, even as it acknowledges the technology may bring new challenges as well.

“We should look at AI more as a co-pilot rather than something that necessarily is going to replace someone’s job. AI is a tool that can help almost everybody do their jobs faster, better, quicker, and that’s how we’re seeing it being deployed,” said U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at an AI summit in November 2023 at Bletchley Park, home of the war-time codebreakers.

The U.K. also wants to be a leading voice on AI safety: The Bletchley Park Declaration, which came out of the same summit, saw nations agree to work to understand the threats of AI and the work to mitigate them.

SEE: Impact of AI on Jobs in the UK: 10-30% of Jobs Could be Automated with AI (TechRepublic)

The first big test for the U.K.’s AI strategy will come in 2024, when politics and AI are likely to collide. The U.K.’s cybersecurity agency, the National Cyber Security Centre, has warned that AI will make the spread of fake news easier in the run up to the next general election, likely to take place in the second half of 2024.

“Large language models (LLMs) will almost certainly be used to generate fabricated content; that hyper-realistic bots will make the spread of disinformation easier; and that deepfake campaigns are likely to become more advanced in the run up to the next nationwide vote,” the NCSC said. “The NCSC also assesses that democratic event, such as elections, almost certainly represent attractive targets for malicious actors and so organisations and individuals need to be prepared for threats, old and new.”

Many U.K. companies will rethink tech investments

The U.K. government has the ambition of creating half the tech unicorns (i.e., companies worth more than $1billion) in Europe by 2030 and have a similar level of venture capital investment as a share of Gross Domestic Product as the U.S.

Last year turned out to be a tough one for the U.K. software and IT services, with the market seeing little-to-no growth and 2024 could be challenging for the U.K., according to tech analyst firm TechMarketView. “This toughened environment, combined with other challenging factors such as increasing cyber threats, growing competitive pressure, and rising employee and customer expectations, is forcing many organisations to rethink tech investments,” it said in a post on its annual predictions.

“In 2024, buyers will put much greater focus on ensuring they are ready to adopt and leverage – at pace – the value of emerging technologies,” the analyst said. That will mean investing in AI, which may in turn play a pivotal role in increasing the pace of wider digital transformation strategies, the analysts said, as companies are making a bigger effort to finally rethink their legacy systems in 2024.

Fintech will mature

In terms of the technology that is booming in the U.K., financial tech (fintech) companies have been the standout success in the last decade or so, building on the historical status of London’s financial district. The fintech sector is made up of more than 1,600 companies, making it the largest in Europe.

Law firm Shoosmiths said fintech is likely to see market consolidation in 2024, with the smaller and less profitable companies being bought out. “Fintech will to an extent shift its focus from ‘newness’ and disruption to maturity and stability,” Shoosmiths said in its predictions for the year.

Hiring in the U.K. will increase

Tech recruitment had a tough year in 2023, with companies being generally more cautious than before; in an unpredictable business environment, they were reluctant to commit to big hiring decisions, Bev White, chief executive officer at recruitment firm Nash Squared told TechRepublic over email.

“However, the signs are that confidence is starting to grow back somewhat as macro conditions begin to modestly improve. The collective wisdom is that this growth in confidence will continue and will translate into more activity and increased hiring as 2024 goes on as businesses ramp up the fulfilment of their ever-present technology resourcing needs,” she said.

SEE: Crucial Skills Gaps in the UK Include AI and Strategic Thinking, According to Red Hat (TechRepublic)

Goodbye 3G networks, hello 5G?

This year will see a major technology transition, with Vodafone, EE and the Three networks all due to switch off their 3G networks. Data from telecoms regulator Ofcom shows that, as of late 2023, there were still around 2.4 million devices reliant on 2G or 3G networks, although 3G only makes up 3% of network data traffic. Consumers still using 3G devices will need to upgrade; businesses should check whether any of their wireless devices, like alarms or payment terminals, will need to be replaced or updated.

The majority of mobile traffic is carried over 4G, while Ofcom said the availability of 5G continues to “grow rapidly” and rollout will continue across 2024: For example, London’s tube network is due to be getting 5G connectivity this year.

Wireless and broadband connectivity is going from nice-to-have to vital: tech analyst CCS Insight predicts that in one major European market by 2025, a “connectivity performance rating” could be required before the sale of any property. This would rate the indoor and outdoor mobile coverage by each network operator and the current and expected status of full-fibre broadband, it said, reflecting how the level of connectivity has an impact on property prices.

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Subscribe to the TechRepublic UK Newsletter

Catch up on the week’s essential technology news, must-read posts, and discussions that would be of interest to IT pros working in the UK and Europe. Delivered Wednesdays