GP Bullhound’s managing partner Hugh Campbell used the 10th Northern Tech Awards to speak about some of the challenges facing the tech sector.

Campbell said there was no hiding the fact that investment activity was down and many of the biggest companies in the world were laying off ‘staff in their thousands’.

However, he told the audience at the Assembly Rooms, in Edinburgh, that the tech sector had consistently reinvented itself.

He said the problems at Silicon Valley Bank had ‘sent shockwaves across the tech world’ and spoke about the challenges and opportunities that AI and ChatGPT represent.

Campbell added: “The public markets remain shut and those European businesses large enough to buck this trend, like ARM, are opting for the Nasdaq over London or other European exchanges. A depressing development indeed.

“The investment community has not escaped either. VC tourists have been exiting private tech as fast as possible, embarrassed by their enthusiasm to back ‘momentum’ rather than great companies.

“Similar to the credit crunch, I’m sure we will see some well-known investors disappear entirely.

“And then we had the Silicon Valley Bank drama which sent shockwaves across the tech world. A sucker punch that took the wind out of our collective sails.

“HSBC acquired the UK arm of the bank in an incredible deal brokered over a weekend, as our tech sector showed just how quickly it could rally the support of the government.

CurrentBody is star of Northern Tech Awards as winners revealed

“As a result, SVB UK continues to serve its tech industry customers much as it did before.

“It’s just one example of how, despite all the gloom, there is plenty to be proud about.”

Campbell added: “After years where we’ve been looking for the next really big shift forward since the smartphone, it looks like it might actually be here.

“When OpenAI launched ChatGPT, it was nothing new to AI researchers, but once the public got their hands on it, it was clear just how much large language models and generative AI could transform every aspect of society.

“Ten years ago, DeepMind had just been bought by Google for £400m. A princely sum, we thought at the time, but in today’s context seems like one of the deals of the decade.

“Companies like Microsoft and Google are rushing to build these kinds of AI into their products. And just this year over $20bn has been invested in AI tech companies.

“It’s easy to see how all manner of jobs could be made easier, completely changed, or even be replaced by this emerging technology.

“But it won’t all be good news for society – we’ve already seen voice cloning AI used to create scam phone calls, with audio cloning creating a stink in the music industry just this week. There are also real concerns around the bias and inaccuracies built into the AI models.

“Some believe the next step – fully sentient AI or what’s known as artificial general intelligence – is just around the corner, others that it may still be decades away.

“Some, like the founders of DeepMind, believe this God-like AI will allow us to solve huge fundamental issues like global health and access to food and education for all.

Global challenges may force tech CEOs to ‘throttle back on growth’

“Others, like Ian Hogarth, a super angel in the AI space, believes it ‘could usher in the obsolescence or destruction of the human race’.

“Even the mighty Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, says our lack of readiness for AI is keeping him awake at night. He is calling for greater government scrutiny much like the regulation of nuclear arms globally.

“But while there are clear risks to letting AI take the lead in our lives, and we should move forward into this new world with plenty of caution, the sheer level of opportunity is enormous.

“It’s a reminder that while the economy around tech right now might be not as strong as it was, the reason all that money exists is because of what this industry discovers and builds.

“Entrepreneurs just need the right advice and team around them to succeed, and the big tech layoffs are a great opportunity to hire experienced and talented people looking for a new challenge.

“Winston Churchill – a man known for getting himself and the UK out of a few tight spots, said: ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that count’.”

In a glittering night at the Northern Tech Awards,   Manchester-based eCommerce beauty business CurrentBody won the Judges’ Award for International Success before walking away with the big prize – the Overall Judges’ Award.