• 17 Mar - 23 Mar, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

Perhaps the most hackneyed of all observations is that the world today is galloping forward at an unprecedented rate. It is a statement that has always been made, but never with more truth than today. We live in the world of digital technology which hurtles forward at a dizzying speed so that it is almost impossible to keep up with what is going on.

Here in the UK, the commitment to technology is total, to the extent that unless you are computer literate to a fairly high degree, many day to day functions become difficult to perform. Primary schools have IT rooms and kids as young as five are introduced to the wonders of the world wide web; I have felt the effects of it and have at times had to face acute embarrassment when my six-year-old granddaughter has had occasion to look at me in disbelief, astounded that I did not know this or that. My elder granddaughter, who is nine, is so far ahead of me that I have long since considered it unwise to get into a competition with her. As the very pithy Urdu proverb puts it ‘izzat apne haaton mein hoti hai.’

Britain led the way in the first industrial revolution with the advent of steam power and then, much later, in the information revolution with the advent of the World Wide Web. Today, British technical innovation is so widely recognised that UK-based tech companies are attracting more capital funding from Silicon Valley than any other European country. Whether or not that will remain to be true after Brexit is something that will be determined by the type of Brexit we end up with.

The figures quoted here are a little over a year old, but they tell the story. In 2016, the UK secured £6.8 billion in venture capital and private equity investment in this field, about 50 per cent more than any other European capital and more than the Germans, French and Dutch put together. Part of the reason is that the UK is home to eight of Europe’s top 20 Universities, which are the centers of technical innovation and digital ecosystems. The skill that attracts this investment is invested in these institutions. In 2015, the turnover of the UK digital tech industry was estimated at £170 billion, recording a growth rate of 22 per cent over the previous five years. Today, it is said that in London a new tech business is set up almost every hour. The industry employs 1.64 million people, most of whom are highly skilled and even more highly paid.

The technologies now being talked about and in the process of being set up, like 5G and blockchain are, for digital first graders like myself, words beyond real comprehension. All that I can say is that 5G is a wireless speed that will download the biggest of files in the twinkling of an eye, while blockchain is a new type of internet, allowing digital information to be distributed, not copied.

The buzzwords today are Artificial Intelligence (AI), one of the first examples of which is Alexa, marketed by Amazon, a sort of personal assistant which can perform jobs like turning the TV on or off at your command. And then there are terms like VR, (Virtual Reality) Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality or MR, each of which, in very simple layman’s language goes a step further in creating an illusion of reality.

For the moment, much of the application of these things comes in game parks and in the form of computer games, but VR and 360 degrees vision is now being used for educational purposes especially where three dimensional concepts are involved. At the moment, it would not perhaps be right even to say that sky is the limit, for the limit appears to be much higher. The years to come will be exciting times to live, albeit the effect of some of this will be to create more introverted individuals and hence more introverted societies. But the capitalist society, of which this advancement is an offshoot, has never given a hoot about the sociological impact its advances and inventions may give rise to. The generation gap has always been there but perhaps never as accentuated as it is at present with the older generation almost shut out of conversation even when conversation takes place. Nor is this going to be a temporary phenomenon with technology covering all generations at some time in the future. The advances come at such breakneck speed that a huge gap between what the young know and can do with a computer is always going to be much greater than what the old can do. In fact, we are not too far from that stage even now. The pressure from the Tax Department, for example, to file in returns on line is immense; but older people find that difficult to handle while the younger tax officials tend to find paper returns irritating.

Progress has always come at a price. It would be nice to have someone, somewhere, assessing that price.