The last 50-70 years have seen an enormous amount of innovation. In particular there has been an acceleration in the ICT space over the last 20 years, and this is affecting every single aspect of our society and our economy. It is providing us with tools to address the challenges that we are facing – be it the environment, changes in natural resources, social issues in relation to globalisation and the movement of people, liveability, economic issues in relation to robotisation, AI, the relation of work versus income – the list has no end. Here are first some examples:
- To face the rapidly rising costs of healthcare we need to start looking at a transformation, especially in the way healthcare services are delivered. E-health, tele-medicine and tele-monitoring are some of the new tools available to save costs and increase the quality of healthcare.
- The overall education system requires massive transformation in order for it to be far more relevant to the current digital society. The structure of universities has not changed greatly since the Middle Ages and the schooling system is still very much as it was developed in the late 19th and early 20th
- Smart grids, microgrids, distributed energy, battery storage – combined known as smart energy can and will eventually revolutionise our energy system because it doesn’t just make environmental but also economic sense. Why are we trying to stop this by hanging on to out-of-date resources and technologies?
- Many of our liveability, transportation, population, sustainability and digital economy challenges should be addressed from the bottom up. We need to empower cities and communities to work out what they need, and from there work with other levels of government to make it happen. This trend is also known as smart cities.
- Perhaps this item should be at the top of the list, but another very critical challenge we face is to safeguard our democratic principles and institutions. We see what the internet/technology can do in this space, both good and bad. We need to ensure that our innovations and new technologies will be developed and used for the good of all people and for the good of our democracy. Transparency will be a key element of this.
These changes are creating massive upheavals and it require skilled leadership to make the right decision on how to best move forward in addressing these challenges. There are some who gravitate towards conservatism, trying to stay with the familiar and trusted situation for as long as possible, while others opt for a progressive way forward. Those who are already on the positive receiving end of this transformation generally favour a progressive attitude towards innovation deployment, and those who are negatively affected by these changes choose the conservative approach.
As the changes are affecting everybody it is important that all are included in this process. While the progressive side of society might want to move forward as fast as possible the conservative side is holding back. Until a decade or so ago most of the times the parties did find each other somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately currently party politics are getting in the way – rather than working together to achieve a balanced outcome these political forces are totally out of kilter with each other and are basically working in opposite directions. What is needed is cooperative government that uses both approaches to move forward. To achieve at least some common ground both sides must first agree on the challenges – accept that they do exist. It is equally important to agree that these issues need to be addressed and that technology, among other things, can help in this.
To address these challenges – and taking a balanced approach into account – what must happen now is a mass deployment of the new innovations; and this requires large-scale social and economic transformation and the political will to address the issues in a serious, positive and urgent way. It will challenge the way we run our society, economy, businesses, and indeed our lives and of course those negatively affected by these changes need to be looked after, we clearly see what happens if we fail to do so.
Each of the challenges is unique and the complexity goes well beyond politics. The people involved, the politicians and the experts in these fields, need to work together in a bipartisan way, where both sides of the arguments can be addressed and worked out. In general, these issues should be addressed in a non-political manner, and in the spirit of collaboration and mutual interest, so that the right decisions can be taken. As many of these issues are very similar world-wide, best practice from around the world can also be used as guidelines.
Unfortunately, the current political climate results in polarisation and confrontation rather than in cooperation, and as a result we see both a delay in the deployment of innovations and a lack of care in ensuring that everybody is being equally involved in the process. Furthermore, polarisation is making it more difficult to move forward in an orderly and constructive manner.
As our 100,000 years of modern human history shows, progress will always win in the end – but sometimes only after very serious conflict. Is such conflict really needed, or can politicians work together and be responsible leaders in this process?