Inequality in our world is a root cause of many problems, but the strength of technology means it is no longer inevitable, says Vikas Shah. Here he shares his Technifesto for the United Kingdom.
- Information is now who we are – technology is our primary economic, social and cultural tool
- It’s an absolute priority to speed-up the deployment of ultra-fast fibre infrastructure throughout our cities and towns, whilst also embracing the incredible potential of 5G mobile
- Our educational institutions must embrace digital technologies, online learning, and provide our school, university and other students with work and life-ready understanding
- The law will never respond as quickly as technology can change but we can ensure that the foundations of our legal system are compatible with the digital age
- Alongside supporting tech startups, we must encourage the best tech scale-up entrepreneurs
- We can no longer excuse the plight of billions as being inevitable; nobody should be left behind
We talk about being in an information revolution but the reality, as Professor Luciano Floridi told me, is rather different. “We’ve always been an information society, though this fact has been hidden under the many layers of other things we have been. For example, we were an agricultural society as well as an information society, we were an industrial society as well as an information society, and so on.”
Professor Floridi is one of the world’s experts on the philosophy and ethics of information. He continued by adding, “Thinking of society as layers, or strata helps us understand this. The upper layer is what we see, what we identify our society with. A couple of millennia ago, this would have been agricultural (with the Egyptians), and then mercantile (with the Athenians), and onwards to Rome where the essential value of society was its land and resources. All of these societies were also information society- the Egyptians had their scribes, the Hellenic societies created the first recorded histories, the Roman empire had written law and communication, and so on. We have always been information societies, but it is just now that this has become the primary way in which we define ourselves.”
Are we techno sapiens?
Understanding that information is now who we are is important; we are no longer agriculturalists, or industrialists, we are a new group- techno sapiens, characterised by our novel ability to use technology as our primary economic, social and cultural tool.
Historically, governments have been relatively good at seeing these different stages and responding with strategies that embraced the times. Agricultural policies laid the ground for employment, education, mechanisation, and production for our farms and the same was true of the industrial revolution.
The technological revolution however is different. Previous iterations of change (the ‘what we do’) have been built on a relatively solid bedrock of agreed economic, social and political processes (‘the way things are done’). Technology is upending all aspects of this at a rapid pace; thus, we’re building the towers of civilisation on a floating pontoon, on a stormy sea.
Kevin Kelly, Founder of WIRED told me, “A meta-trend in our lives today, is the fact that change is permanent. The way things are changing is itself changing too. In my grandfather’s age, people lived not too differently to their grandfathers and so people did not need to think about the future too much. Now? When people are born, their lives will be completely transformed by the time they grow up. Everything is changing all the time, and in most ways faster- that’s part of our education and techno-literacy. We are permanently newbies, permanently learners. We are never masters, but rather constantly learning and re-learning technologies as they emerge.”
Governments can however, respond and thus I lay out here my technifesto – setting out key policy areas where our nation’s leaders could make a real difference.
In a highly connected and globalised world, the quality of the infrastructure we use to move about is critical; this means investing in arterial road and rail links connecting our cities, and also providing necessary upgrades to our aviation infrastructure to build the capacity we need for the future.
Digital and Mobile Infrastructure:
Our technology can only be as good as its connectivity; and we must make it an absolute priority to speed-up the deployment of ultra-fast fibre infrastructure throughout our cities and towns; whilst also embracing the incredible potential of 5G mobile. We also have to double-down our efforts to connect rural and hard-to-reach communities to ensure they are not left behind.
Training and Education:
Technology education is about more than just teaching kids how to code. We have to make sure our educational institutions are embracing digital technologies, online learning, and providing our school, university and other students with work and life ready understanding of everything from coding, to cyber security, and the tools they need to make sense of a complex and rapidly changing technological age.
Our global workforce has never been more mobile, and the ability for us to attract the best talent from anywhere in the world to our country is key if we are going to succeed in the future. We need freedom of movement, period.
Trade and Legislation:
Let me be clear, law will never respond as quickly as technology can change however we can ensure that the foundations of our legal system are compatible with the digital age. Thus, we must simplify and open our intellectual property protections, we must ensure our employment policies protect and encourage labour mobility and freelancers, we must ensure our laws are compatible with supporting the complex needs of international business and finally, we must ensure we trade as openly as we can, with as many nations as we can.
Support and Incentives:
We need to move away from inefficient ‘business link’ style support, and provide funding, investment incentives and help that can be tailored to the individual needs of businesses and sectors. Leveraging technology, we can reduce the public spend but increase the delivery.
Entrepreneurs are the source of the ideas that will transform our economy, society and culture. Alongside supporting tech startups, we must encourage tech scale-up entrepreneurs, picking the winners and giving them tailored support to become the next multi-billion pound success stories, and creating spill-over effects for our wider economy. This policy must extend to social entrepreneurs, for they will be the architects of the solutions to many of our most intractable problems.
Nobody Left Behind:
Inequality in our world is savage, and the root cause of many of our most severe problems. Technology allows us to deliver healthcare, economic growth and even governance to anywhere in the world. We can no longer excuse the plight of billions as being inevitable, and thus with the strength of technology; nobody should be left behind.
That is my technifesto for the United Kingdom.