The Guardian recently published a short piece by Dr Sue Black, known for her championing of the campaign to restore Bletchley Park. Dr Black takes issue with the seven leaders of the UK political parties who appeared in ITV’s debate last Thursday:
Last night’s election leaders’ debate was notable for the almost complete absence of technology, bar a hesitant reference to “IT” from Ed Miliband. Not one of the seven candidates spoke about technology as an enabler, as a tool that offers us the capability to completely revitalise our economy.
There’s no doubt that technology has been missing from election messaging — but that’s understandable as it’s hardly a vote-winning issue in the same way that the NHS, the economy (as a whole), employment and zero-hour contracts are.
Dr Black’s piece continues:
Now is the time for a new inspiring vision of the future, from a leader who can not only lead but who is not afraid to connect and collaborate. A leader who understands and can leverage the massive opportunities available, someone that our innovative, inventive and creative population can believe in. We need a leader who understands the capabilities inherent in modern technology and has the ability to use them to solve our problems. We need that leader now.
Absolutely. Though I would also add that we need leaders who understand the risks of quickly-developing technology (e.g. to jobs, health, social mobility etc.) as well as the rosy promises that some technologists and businesses make.
Apologies for quoting a Labour politician on their own (rather than finding good examples from both sides of the Commons), but one candidate that sprung to mind on reading Dr Black’s piece was Liam Byrne, who fairly recently wrote (in the context of jobs):
… here’s the really bad news.
Technology and trade may be about to make the problem even tougher.
Technology may prove the more important short term force because of the way it is simply transforming the future of work. Technology has now automated huge numbers of what were once reasonably skilled, reasonably paid jobs. It’s a long trend, treated extensively in Labour and the Scientific Revolution back in 1963, but the pace feels like it’s getting faster.
Our ability to combine technology – processing power, cheap sensors, robotics, networks, social media, big data – means we’re now at an inflection point in our ability to combine and recombine technologies to do new things, revolutionising technology from Google’s driverless cars to better diagnosis of diseases.
First technology took the blue collar jobs. Now it’s the white collar jobs as well. …
The above is a paraphrased from Chapter Two of Byrne’s Robbins Rebooted: How we earn our way in the second machine age, which outlines some of Labour’s thinking on the future of higher education.
It’s good to see some traction for the risks that fast-developing autonomous systems might have for jobs and social mobility. It would be better to see a whole lot more.