President June 2018

Embracing technology

But creativity must be nurtured too

As the pace of technological change continues to accelerate, a steady stream of new terms has entered the layman’s lexicon. From cloud computing to cognitive technology, analytics to artificial intelligence, robotics and blockchain, they are becoming common expressions.

Yet, although increasingly familiar to many of us, they often are little understood buzzwords, signalling the entry points into an uncharted world of digital disruption.

However, for younger generations—so-called millennials and Gen Z—they are more likely to serve as signposts indicating the direction of social change, and the sandbox of future employment opportunities.

The benefits of an exponential increase in digital connectivity are well documented. Rewards, however, are shadowed by attendant risks to security and prosperity.

The UK is fortunate, though, to be home to a flourishing cyber security sector, with the Department for International Trade predicting that exports of such services could reach £2.6bn by 2021, with Japan, it is hoped, becoming a key market.

Carving out a niche
Financial technology is another area of strength. Evidence of this came in February, with the announcement by Citigroup of plans to establish a new innovation centre in London. The continued availability of skilled workers is of course key to attracting such investment, with Citi’s chief execu­tive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa recognising London as “a key hub for cutting-edge technological talent”.

Such ability is demanded not only by the service sector, but also by businesses in manu­facturing and engineering. This reflects the range of British firms that are successfully carving out a niche in the development of advanced technologies.

Included is innovation in the area of mobility, with The Telegraph newspaper recently reporting that a UK delegation took up the largest single exhibition space at last month’s Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan spring congress in Yokohama—showcasing capabilities in connected and autonomous vehicle technology and advanced lightweight composite materials.

A true global icon
So how should people of the younger genera­tion prepare themselves for the world of tech­nological change that we can barely dream about, let alone fully comprehend?

Policy-makers rightly point to the need to strengthen education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM subjects). It is important, though, that this should not be to the exclusion of the arts. Through advances in computing and cognitive technologies, machines have become far superior to humans in searching for, screening and analysing data. That said, the comparative advantage that we enjoy over machines is our innate capacity for creativity—and long may that be nurtured among young and old alike.

For a timely reminder of the UK’s own historical strengths in the realm of creativity, and design in particular, I was pleased last month to see that the Issigonis Trophy had been awarded to President Akio Toyoda for the much acclaimed automotive engineering achievements of Toyota Motor Corporation. The prize is named after the great British visionary, Sir Alec Issigonis (1906–1988), celebrated designer of a true global icon launched in 1959: the Mini.