CAMBRIDGE, England — When you step off the train here and walk into the city square outside the railway station, you will not see the spires of King’s College Chapel or the turrets atop the Trinity Great Court. The University of Cambridge is still a cab ride away. But you will see a stone and glass office building with a rooftop patio. This is where Amazon designs its flying drones.
Just down the block, inside a stone building of its own, Microsoft is designing some sort of computer chip for artificial intelligence. And if you keep walking, you will soon reach a third building, marked with a powder-blue Apple logo, where engineers are pushing the boundaries of Siri, the talking digital assistant included with every iPhone.
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For years, journalists, city planners and other government officials have called this “Silicon Fen,” envisioning the once sleepy outskirts of Cambridge as Britain’s answer to Silicon Valley. The name — a nod to the coastal plain, or Fenlands, that surrounds Cambridge — never quite stuck. But the concept certainly did, so much so that the world’s tech powers have moved in, snapping up engineers and researchers, particularly in the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence.
Their arrival provides a welcome fillip for the British economy that’s expected to be bruised by its departure from the European Union. Apple, Amazon and Google established research and engineering hubs in Britain by acquiring companies that emerged from local universities, spending millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars.
There are more than 4,500 high-tech firms in Cambridge, employing nearly 75,000 people, many of them commuters from other communities, according to Cambridge Network, a city business group.
Just across the street from Amazon’s Cambridge headquarters, ARM, the computer chip company owned by SoftBank, the Japanese tech giant, recently moved a team of engineers into a row of temporary offices. And a new building is going up just yards away. This is where Samsung, the South Korean tech conglomerate, will soon open another artificial intelligence lab, hiring as many as 150 researchers, engineers and other staff.