Jessica Clark analyses new research which shows many people in Scotland misunderstand technology
We are living in a rapidly changing world. While the changes of the last few months have been driven by an unprecedented global health crisis, great shifts have been underway for much longer driven by the march of technology.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown have highlighted the ubiquity and necessity of some of these developments.
Many of us have turned to the internet and cloud computing to keep us connected to friends and family and to continue working while staying at home. Advances in 3D printing have allowed much-needed personal protection equipment to be made by pop-up manufacturers across the UK. While artificial intelligence has been used to predict how the pandemic would spread and to help in the development of vaccinations.
However, Covid-19 has also shown that access to these technologies in Scotland, and the benefits they can bring, is far from universal.
The potential of these technologies – to reform public services, to improve people’s lives, to boost local and national economies – is huge. But for our progress in Scotland to be truly inclusive, understanding and knowledge must be open to all.
Research from Nesta, conducted before and during the lockdown, shows that for many in Scotland understanding of these technologies is too often obscured by jargon and damaged by misinformation.
Technological developments are often seen as elitist and out of reach - particularly for those on a lower income and women.
This has an impact on trust and belief with concerns about data collection and the loss of jobs affecting people’s perception of new technologies and limiting public support for investment and innovation.
This period of technological advancement that we are living in is described as the fourth industrial revolution. Like industrial revolutions before it, there is a danger that while big advances may be seen, too many will be left behind and existing inequalities will deepen unless there is a deliberate shift in knowledge and participation.
Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, the third sector in Scotland has cemented the vital role it plays in our society. They have rallied to support people, addressing both new and deepening needs thrown up by the emergency. And worked together as a sector to champion those affected by a broad range of hidden issues, from advocating for more inclusive digital services to highlighting inequalities in access to food and medicine deliveries.
Charities, from local community groups to national organisations, have demonstrated a deep understanding of the needs of the people they serve. An understanding which stems from the trust they have built and the care and empathy with which they act. That trust is reflected in Nesta’s research too as respondents from the public called for the third sector to be involved in oversight of technology in Scotland.
But the role of charities could be greater still, using their understanding, insight, trust and access to ensure people’s needs are represented, their rights protected and that developments in technology work in everyone’s interest.
Great changes in how we live and work have occurred in the last few months and the unprecedented economic fallout from Covid-19 will necessitate greater and more effective use of technology in the months and years to come.
To ensure these coming changes protect and benefit all of society, we need to invest in and encourage learning and create more opportunities for people to develop the skills needed to harness these technologies. We also need to democratise access to decision making so people become invested and engaged in shaping how a tech-driven future can benefit us all as citizens.
Scotland’s economic and social future depends on everyone being able to join this industrial revolution and share in the opportunities it can bring. For that to succeed, Scotland’s charities, and the people they represent, must play an active and central role.
Jessica Clark is programme coordinator for Nesta in Scotland