Government CIOs have a key role to play in creating a fairer, happier, and more inclusive UK after Brexit. I know, that’s quite a bold statement. Bear with me.
Whatever your views about the rights and wrongs of the decision to leave the European Union, it’s clear that large parts of the country feel disengaged from democracy and generally poorly served by the institutions of the state.
PwC’s Strategy thinks that the keys to unlocking a fairer future for the UK are to be found in the promise of the fourth industrial revolution –the new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital, and biological worlds. But only if our government plays an assertive role in shaping the digital revolution so that the benefits are enjoyed by all.
"AI, robotics and so on could contribute up to £232bn to UK GDP by 2030 according to PwC’s Future of Work analysis"
There are many ways in which frontier technologies can be deployed to improve everyone’s lives:
• Using robots to speed up the public’s interactions with government - filling in forms, paying bills, and transacting benefits. Agencies like DVLA and the Passport Office have shown the way, but there’s much more to do for the public service to catch up with the customer experience provided by the likes of Amazon and Netflix;
• Exploiting AI and machine learning to reduce health inequalities. Leading hospitals are already using pattern recognition to identify patients at risk of developing a condition so that they can provide preventative services that nip problems in the bud;
• Investing in mobile technology and high-speed connectivity to arm citizens with information and provide them with platforms to directly interact with decision-makers and democratic processes to improve their daily lives. The example being set by the mayors of the Next Century Cities project in the US is showing what can be achieved by determined civic leaders.
Great opportunities. But the government faces some big challenges as well. Catching the digital tiger by its tail has risks. This revolution could indeed widen the gap between the haves and the have not’s if the state takes a wrong step.
AI, robotics and so on could contribute up to £232bn to UK GDP by 2030 according to PwC’s Future of Work analysis. But it could displace many jobs –30 percent of UK jobs are at risk of automation by the mid-2030s. The government must work closely with business to make sure nobody is left behind, boosting education and offering opportunities for reskilling a generation of workers.
A successful digital government will also need to offer citizens guarantees and protections if the technology revolution is to generate widely shared advantages. Many people are concerned about how their personal data is used, in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandals. The state needs to help build public trust in data and play an active role in defining and policing the rules of the game.
State agencies will need work very differently; seeking to achieve public policy goals through eco-systems rather than attempting to do everything themselves. This must include investing in constructive relationships for mutual benefit with digital innovators – from start-ups and scale ups all the way through to the tech giants.
Government has a fantastic opportunity to harness the power of new technology. But to capitalise fully it needs to be underpinned by a vision for a transformed economy and society in which emerging technology is encouraged, invested in and harnessed to ensure a fairer future for everyone.