Yesterday, I was delighted to take part in a short debate on the risks and opportunities involved in the deployment of large scale technology for our essential services.

House of Lords, January 12th 2021

“Would my noble friend the Minister agree that there are huge advantages for citizen and state, local and national government, to be gained through the considered, ethical and purposed deployment of digital and emerging technologies for the provision and indeed transformation of essential and non-essential services.”

Lord Holmes of Richmond, House of Lords, January 12th 2021

Whilst absolutely alive to the risks I took the opportunity to refocus on the huge advantages of modern technologies. I firmly believe in the benefits for citizen and state that can be gained through the considered, ethical and purposed deployment of digital and emerging technologies for the provision, and indeed transformation, of essential and non-essential services. As long as deployment is considered, ethical and purposed we should be inspired and excited by the opportunities. Indeed, often the risks can be mitigated or solutions offered by the technologies themselves, for example, certain fintech solutions would have reduced levels of fraud in the government Covid loan schemes.

The government must be proactive about developing technological solutions for the public good. I have long advocated for the benefits of distributed ledger technologies (DLT) and am determined that we do not leave the benefits of this technology to be exploited only by commercial organisations.  The opportunity is for public- private partnership, on such a scale, so constructed as to be truly worthy of the name.

If the government channels every element of Michael’s Gove’s Ditchley lecture we will be in good shape.

One recent project I have supported demonstrated a comprehensive supply chain data management system for Australia/UK wine imports in which all the required trade information was generated at the point of commercial contract and all actors involved (from producers to importers via regulators, customs etc) had safe assured and controlled access to the same data. It is good news that it was referred to in the governments 2025 border strategy and should be noted that the project was pro bono: what potential if we can move forward with international leadership, funding and collaboration. The project  was an incredible example of collaboration (UK/Aus govt, regulators, trade bodies, producers, tech firm, academics).

During the debate yesterday, several colleagues developed the detail of potential risks, from the threat of cyber attacks on critical infrastructure, to the difficulties SMEs face in getting adequate insurance coverage for cyber breaches due to the poor quality of current data. Ethical risks are also of significant concern. Particular points made in the debate were over the exclusion of individuals from services due to the digital divide, the impact on citizen rights by the current use of facial recognition technology and the need for appropriate oversight and scrutiny of the use of algorithms in local and central government decision making. The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation report and recommendations can be of great use to the government here.

I am delighted that on the subject of opportunity my colleague Baroness Pitkeathley reminded us of another specific technological development, in terms of assistive technology. There is so much to be gained economically, socially and psychologically if we are able to deliver at every level on assistive technology, not least right through health, education and employment.

If we are to be “recovery ready” we must consider every element of digital and emerging technologies, it will be this alchemy of talent and technology which will more than see us through.

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