Digital innovation – are our policy makers preparing Wales for change?

July 2020 | Rural policy

While it is accepted that digital innovation is a game changer, it remains difficult to define. Professor Phil Brown, chair of the Welsh Government’s Review of Digital Innovation, usefully refers to digital innovation as the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), elements of robotics, and the manipulation of big data sources.

Professor Brown’s expert report looking at digital innovation and the impacts for Wales recommended that Wales needed to establish new business models, employment practices, and ways of skilling the workforce. The big fear amongst policy makers is that digital innovation, dubbed the 4th industrial revolution, will cause mass unemployment as AI and automation make many jobs redundant. Professor Brown is more optimistic, however, judging that digital innovation could be a job creator, and that Wales’s Well-being of Future Generations legislation provided a sound framework to ensure that the benefits are spread across the economy to the advantage of wider society.

In a 2018 article titled ‘The robots are coming – Wales needs a plan’ Lee Waters, then a backbench Assembly Member, warned the Welsh Government not to ‘try to halt automation’ but rather to ‘harness it’. In the article, Mr Waters, now a Deputy Economy and Transport Minister, with an element of responsibility for these matters, argued that the changes were seismic and difficult, but that Wales had to ‘face up to these long term threats and opportunities.’

Llanelli’s Member of the Senedd was invited by the Welsh Government to lead an expert panel looking at the impact of automation and AI on public services. The report, ‘System Reboot -transforming public services through better use of digital’ argued that public sector leaders were lacking in digital confidence, that digital had to be at the heart of service design and delivery, and that these changes had to happen quickly.

Not even the Welsh language is exempt from of policy makers’ thinking on these issues. In 2017, the Welsh Language Technology Action Plan identified speech technology, computer-assisted translation, and conversational AI as opportunities for achieving the ambition for a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Covid-19 has shown us more clearly than ever the opportunities for digital innovation. As the country went into lockdown, huge swathes of the workforce abandoned their offices to work from home, GPs offered consultations over the phone, more and more people began to shop online, and Saturday quiz night on Zoom became the new way to meet family and friends. At the more critical level, it is technology that holds the key to tackling the pandemic, through track and trace systems with digital innovation at their core.

We have been forced to embrace digital innovation across our work, consumer, and personal lives, and have all experienced what a lifeline it can be.


‘The robots are coming – Wales needs a plan’

System Reboot Transforming public services through better use of digital

Review of Digital Innovation – Final Report

Welsh language technology action plan
Welsh language technology action plan

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