digital

This is for Dot Everyone

This evening I was lucky enough to be invited to the Science Museum to hear Martha Lane Fox’s Dimbleby Lecture. It was engaging, interesting and beautifully delivered, as I would expect. More significantly Martha used the occasion to launch the vision for a new national institution she has christened Dot Everyone.

Martha and I share a passion for digital inclusion. We regularly meet to ensure the organisations we each chair – Go On UK and the Tinder Foundation – are complementing each other in our shared aim of ending the digital divide in Britain. I am also a huge admirer of the work she did as the UK Digital Champion, and subsequently, in influencing long overdue change in the way government embraces digital technology.

It is therefore no surprise that she has used the honour of delivering the Dimbleby Lecture to re-focus on the next challenge so that:

Britain can “leapfrog every nation in the world and become the most digital, most connected, most skilled, most informed on the planet.”

Martha’s analysis starts with the proposition that the power of the Internet is defined by the balance between private companies and public bodies. The dynamism and dazzling pace comes from the private sector but they must operated in an environment regulated for the public good.

And she is right to say that the civic side of the equation needs a boost.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the Olympic 2012 opening ceremonyThe digital revolution could and should be “for everyone” as Sir Tim Berners-Lee defined it in the opening ceremony of London 2012. But the dominance of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook over the net, risks civic society becoming powerless as a very few in California get richer and richer. Governments are then left as bystanders whose role is only to cheer when those that run them are generous enough to turn to philanthropy.

I want a digital society that is defined by the cultures of sharing and co-creation, not increasing control through decreasing privacy.

In her lecture Martha wants her new institution to initially focus on three things:

  • First, how we improve our understanding of the internet at all levels of our society
  • Secondly, how we get more women involved in technology, and
  • Thirdly, how we tackle the genuinely new and thorny ethical and moral issues the internet has created

The first and third go hand in glove.

There are huge security issues around the asymmetric threats caused by cyber terrorism. There are opportunities to impose surveillance on our online activity, for example to guard against grooming by both paedophiles and terrorist groups. But few senior civil servants, ministers or Parliamentarians have sufficient understanding of the infrastructure of the net to know how best to do this.

And few also see the downsides of invading our online privacy.

These are really difficult judgements and need an informed Parliamentary debate that is informed by the public. Right now it is hard to see much public debate. This is a huge failing by politicians and their friends in the media.

Dot Everyone is a bold idea to keep that debate at the forefront.

And should we worry about the paucity of women in tech? Of course we should – if we want the internet to be more collaborative, more inclusive and to grow the culture of sharing online.

I work with some brilliant women in technology – Helen Milner at Tinder Foundation, Rachel Neaman at Go On UK, Louise Rogers at TES Global, Annika Small at the Nominet Trust, Debbie Forster and Iris Lapinski at Apps For Good and Emma Mulqueeny at Young Rewired State. But I also see how imbalanced the sector is as a whole and know that Martha is right to want this fixed as a priority.

There are plenty more questions to ask about Dot Everyone. Are these the only priorities? What about inclusion? Should it be global or national? How should we find it and safeguard its independence?

But by finding myself asking these questions I know I have already accepted the need for it to exist. Which leads to the question I hope many of us will be asking:

Well done Martha – now how can I help?

PS. Visit Martha’s Doteveryone site doteveryone.org.uk and sign up to her change.org perition

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digital

Internet of Things – an opportunity for Government?

When the world’s mobile telecoms movers and shakers gather in Barcelona next week they will inevitably be thinking about the next wave of the technology revolution. The Internet of Things and Machine to Machine have been talked about for a while and there will be an impatience for the commercial impact to really be felt.

Aside from commercial judgments, what about how governments should exploit the potential of digital to solve today’s challenges. In Barcelona I will be discussing with ministers how we can realise the potential of this new technology across the public sector.

A starting point is the urgent need for governments to do things differently.

The old ways of delivering public services were forged in the post war industrial economy. They are no longer affordable. By contrast, communication with citizens has never been more affordable thanks to social technology. And the problems are now so complex that the only practical way to solve them is collaboratively with citizens.

So this is the right time to argue for a new mindset, learning from the commercial world and finding new models of service delivery. The Internet of Things offers some interesting examples.

I have been using wearable technology to monitor my health for 18 months and know it changes my health behaviour for the good. In doing so I am conscious of the trade off in terms of that health data also going to a third party. If we can find a way of building public trust in the use of their data there is huge potential in public health to save on care and on chronic diseases like diabetes.

There is plenty more. Driverless vehicles can help with congestion, and smart meters can help with affordable heating and tackling climate change. Prof Stephen Heppell has been doing very interesting analysis around the ideal learning environment – the right levels of light, heat, sound and air quality for learning – a smart school can deliver these things. There is also the great learning potential from analysing the huge amount of data created by the Internet of Things.

But I must also sound some warnings.

I have already touched on the growing concern about personal data. Connecting objects appears to be all about creating more data points. Some of that will be data about me that I may not want others to know. If my smart meter is hacked into, could thieves then surmise when my home is normally empty? How safe is my health data and my shopping data?

The technology revolution is creating economic growth but it is not evenly distributed. Recent reports suggests that the richest 1% now own 99% of the wealth. That is not sustainable. The rise of extreme politics and terrorism has to be related to a sense that the status quo is not delivering for many, and so people are looking for an alternative. Will this next technology wave of the Internet of Things lessen or exaggerate that problem?

As a schools minister in the UK, I was responsible for a huge spend on classroom technology. Unfortunately the element of the budget for training got stripped out and so we had a limited return on investment. We had become so be-dazzled by the potential of technology enhanced learning that we had forgotten about the people.

People must be at the heart of this new technology. And here I am impatient to see genuine attempts to design co-creation into public services.

In the commercial world we have seen the technology journey from producer efficiency to consumer personalisation, to now co-creation.

So the challenge is to combine the ability to connect things, with people generated design. Ministers in Barcelona would be wise not be too dazzled by the Machine to Machine technology until the loop is closed of people to machine to machine to people. Then they can get the consent and to harness technology to deliver what the people want from their public services – more for less.

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