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What can we expect for the ‘digital age’ following the election?

Posted by Tom Lawrence on 27th April 2015

In the lead up to the general election it is only natural that we should look for the signs of changes to come that will affect ourselves and our own positions. While news and politics look to the broader details of party manifestos and argue over the finer parts of those sweeping statements, we inevitably look to the horizon for what is coming in the next stage of the ‘digital age’.

Technology startups

Eric_Ries_TechCrunch_DisruptIn recent years the UK has become a breeding ground for startups. Locations such as the Silicon Roundabout and Tech City have emerged from the innovation spring currently residing in East London and it’s spreading its foundations further afield around the UK.

There are more technology companies starting up in Britain than anywhere else in Europe. Startup culture has been addressed and its society targeted as a honeypot of impressionable electorate and has such seemingly garnered a section unto itself in each party manifesto.

In the face of this, startup loans have been targeted party-wide in addition to tax breaks and schemes designed to help alleviate the financial pressures on startups in the UK.

That ‘connectivity’ buzzword

Rural and remote coverage has long been an issue in the UK, often highlighted by reports from Ofcom. The need for superfast broadband for non-commercial use seems to be fairly minimal, otherwise the Sky/BT/Virgin/TalkTalk fibre optic implementation teams would be tearing up a front garden every couple of seconds. Yet many parties have pledged to provide superfast broadband connections to homes around the UK during the next term.

Please don’t mistake my cynicism for disregard; increasing connectivity is vital, particularly in the looming data age. A recent study by CISCO highlights the year-on-year increase in the demand for data — and UK mobile network infrastructure needs to be ready to handle that demand. Although, while spending on broadband infrastructure is necessary, it is also of tantamount importance the elected party focuses on mobile network coverage because networks often struggle with bandwidth issues trying to provide mobile data to the masses. Virtualisation, watch this space.

Rural and remote coverage also looks to be addressed with parties pledging coverage of up to 95% of the UK during the next elected term as well as taking action on the remaining portion of the country as yet underserviced by operators providing voice calls and text messages. Connectivity and access to the internet seems to be almost as important as free speech and I think it would be fair to assume that given coming of the election, this time’s newly elected entity will at least have had a hash at providing network coverage for the UK in its entirety.

NHS gets a digital revamp

As data centres and mobile health comes to the forefront of consumer consciousness, the curiosity as we look to what is on the horizon for the modern transformation of healthcare is inevitable. As medical wearables and device development causes westerners to re-evaluate their status, as the ‘patient’, parties in this election must address the need for a fully integrated and remotely accessible healthcare system.

Plans for the implementation of NHS electronic medical records are already underway as the UK’s healthcare system looks to update its ailing databases. Sharing electronic health records seems to be the logical progression, alluded to in more than one party manifesto alongside the testing and implementation of innovative technologies used to ease the burden on an overworked and currently understaffed public medical sector.

Remote monitoring facilitated by the latest sensory technology will be trialed and widespread analysis of medical record data facilitated as we aim to push the burden of understanding and analysis rightly from human to machine.

Government support going digital

Even the government itself over the past four years seems to have taken up the ‘digital’ mantle. They have decided to use a website: gov.uk. While in comparison to the rest of the economy, this may seem relatively basic, digital access to information on gov.uk is surprisingly user-friendly and offers the opportunity for the electorate to research governmental policy, vote, pay tax and more online.

This looks set to continue across the next term, as the consensus across manifestos tends to be one of governmental transparency and the greater accessibility of government information and advice.

Digital education

digital-bookshelfSchool education has come under close scrutiny over the last four years with Michael Gove’s structural changes, but both sides of the neutral party line agree that the digitalisation of modern society and access to knowledge can offer opportunities for education that put simply; didn’t exist before.

Whether it is simply manifesto fodder or genuine pledge, it seems that schools across the board are likely to look to implement digital education into syllabuses and widen the scope of adult education with a view to making the population much more digitally literate.

Cyber security measures

The last four years has seen a shift in perspective towards cyber security on a scale of mass realisation like never before. The Edward Snowden story, first broken in June 2013, confirmed what was long suspected but never known for certain. Then in August 2014 it was the turn of celebrities to watch, as their private ‘selfies’ were made available to the public by hackers targeting specific iCloud accounts.

There followed a spate of articles discussing the best practices for keeping information safe (advice taken to heart by yours truly) and a key marker that the masses were awake to the threat of cyber security.

Cyber crime will take hold over the next couple of years and where policy differences become interesting is in the way the different factions are offering to provide solutions for it. Rather than hashing out a comparative study (not dissimilar I should imagine to my A Level History essay) on the particular differences in policy, the broad overview seems to suggest that we will be monitored a fair bit more.

With the digitalisation of government process, such as electronic health records and online tax services, the protection of these systems is even more important as online terrorism and attacks target the personal lives of the population.

The digital change we should expect

So, what to expect in the coming government term? Taking a broad look across all digital-related pledges, I think we can expect to see the continued transferal of government process from offline onto web and mobile-based platforms as system reform follows the technology trend. I think we can also expect to see an increase in the number of children and adults who are ‘digitally literate’ as educational programs are adopted into syllabuses and working society in order to drive economic prosperity.

We can also expect improved network coverage for countrywide communications as each government attempts to close the gap between those with access to data or web services and those without. In line with this we can also anticipate the increased level of security in digital applications as we fend of the increased threat of cyber hackers.

There is a great deal more to the digital transformation of people’s lives over the next decade. It will be interesting to watch how government policy affects the digital rights that may directly influence that change as we look at what matters for society and its political, economic and cultural future.

Photo credits: Wikimedia and Jisc