So the week – loathed and longed-for – has come. Theresa May has triggered Article 50, and we have pushed ourselves from the nest of the EU. Now it is time to fall, and see if we can fly.
Countless decisions must now be made about how we navigate the world. And alongside the usual suspects – trade deals, immigration – we also need to make some choices about who and how we want to be as a society. What is Britain in the 21st century? What do we value? What do we fight for?
Perhaps, as I have worked in the internet sector my whole life, I view this situation through biased eyes. But it seems to me that our digital economy must be at the centre of all this: not just the startups that innovate or the speed of the infrastructure but the ethics and morals that will guide us.
We are in an age of marvellous technology but also staggering incomprehension. We rely on tech for almost everything – our banks, our healthcare, our transit – but we have no idea how it works or how to hold it to account. At best, that leads to “understand the necessary hashtags”-style blunders. At worst, it leads to companies with the freedom to make foolish or unethical decisions that put our privacy and our security at risk. 
These are massive issues, ones yoked to nearly every aspect of our lives and nearly every level of our government. And yet, no society in the world has stood up to demand greater control over its digital destiny. No country has committed itself to building technology as fair as it is convenient. It is here, in the space where ethics and tech meet, that Britain can be a world leader. 
Like the Swiss with luxury and the Germans with efficiency, let’s build a future based on our fundamental British decency. In this brave new post-Brexit world, let’s choose to be a country that believes technology in and of itself is not enough – that demands it be fair, ethical, and sustainable as well. 
What might such a country look like? It could be one that celebrates not just digital skills but digital understanding – the ability to both use tech and to comprehend, in real terms, the impact it has on our lives. Estonia has been investing in tech education since 1998, when all schools in the country went online; today, companies like Skype are worth billions of pounds and, as co-founder Taavet Hinrikus told the Economist back in 2013, high school students now dream of being entrepreneurs instead of rock stars.
It could be one that builds a sector where the people who make and maintain our technology are as diverse as the people who use it. France has just announced a new programme to promote gender equality in start-ups – a smart move, since diverse teams are profitable teams.
It could be one that stops asking what our government can do for tech companies and starts asking tech companies what they can do for our government. The United States Digital Service imports private sector experts for “tours of duty” to redesign their federal products and services, making tech consultancy a patriotic act.
It could be one that lets young people explore the online world in anonymity as they grow. The EU is working on a plan to allow young people to delete their internet history aged 18, tackling head on one of the major anxieties faced by parents and teachers alike.
Or it could be one that calls on every sector to build innovative, forward-thinking cyber security. Israel has private companies, venture capitalists, research universities, and the military all working to make sure their nation is safe from digital attack.
This is not just about digital. It is about finding the future of Britain.We’re about to be a smaller country alone in a large world. We need something to anchor ourselves to – something to remind us of who we are and where we’re headed. We are nothing if not strongly moral, and we are headed nowhere more fast than a digitally enabled future. There is no society more fit to lead the world in ethical technology, and so the role is ours for the taking.
Let’s be honest: we are never going to be Silicon Valley. Good digital strategies notwithstanding, the value of the entire European tech sector is just 7% of that of America’s. 
Instead, let’s be the first nation to recognise that technology is not some sort of arcane art. It is, like everything else, the work of people – people who deserve protection, who need encouragement, who want more control. It is here, in the most human part of the sector, where Britain can soar. Let’s lead the world with our ethical, fair, sustainable and responsible technology.

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