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Technology and the future – it’s all about collaboration

When thinking about the future of technology, I’m always reminded of this quote by the fantastic Douglas Adams:

“1) Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn 30 is incredibly exciting and creative, and with any luck, you can make a career out of it;

3) Anything that gets invented after you’re 30 is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it – until it’s been around for about 10 years, when it gradually turns out to be alright really.”

What is technology?

Today, we mostly use the word ‘technology’ to refer to digital and electronic innovations, such as computers and robots. But looking back at history, the concept of technology has been considered much more widely, in line with the definition you get when you ask Google: “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry”. Humans invented looms that changed weaving, and developed new agriculture techniques that revolutionised how much food we could produce. So really, when we talk about technology, we’re talking about the precise changes Douglas Adams highlights as being exciting if you’re under 30 and terrifying if you’re over.

Another way of looking at this is that technology is the future. It’s the process by which we’re continually re-imagining what we can do as a global community, transforming and improving our ways of living and working.

Tackling tech sector challenges

Looking at it from this very human perspective brings a number of common tech industry challenges into sharp focus. First, if humanity wants to carry on progressing and improving, we need to be encouraging young people into the tech sector and investing in their training. And second, if we want to make a future that works for everyone, we need everyone to be involved, not just a single gender, race or nation.

At Softwire, we’ve changed a lot as we’ve progressed nearly twenty years into the future from when we started in 2000. We’ve set diversity targets and started to employ apprentices, to encourage more young people – and particularly those who don’t follow the tech sector’s conventional university-STEM-degree entry route – to join us. To put this into perspective, we account for around 160 people in a sector that employs more than two million in the UK alone. It’s important we do our part, but we’re not single-handedly going to revolutionise the industry. No one business can, on its own.

The power of collaboration

As human beings, our power lies in our ability to co-operate to achieve things larger than we could on our own. In terms of technology, I’m really proud to be a Deputy President of TechUK, with a focus on Building the Smarter State – literally, building the future. The role leads me to all kinds of exciting collaborations that wouldn’t have crossed my path otherwise. Recently, I was a judge at the Tech Connect initiative: a joint project between TechUK and the Government Digital Service (GDS). Tech Connect aims to provide people at the start of their tech careers with cross-sector experience. Employees from private and public sector organisations joined together in teams to use technology to tackle various challenges humanity faces. The aspirations were lofty: can we help homeless people find a bed through the internet booths now available on the streets? Can we help the elderly stay in their own homes for longer, using robotics?

Encouragingly, the teams came up with some genuine, practical solutions to these pressing issues, with the winning ones providing ways to make everyday transactions with the government cheaper and easier for everyone.

Now that’s a future I can get behind.

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