Central to the activities of the BCS policy team is how technology features in the party manifestos, now that a general election looks likely next year. With that in mind, BCS co-sponsored a glittering event at Westminster, as Claire Penketh reports.
Following on from recent successes engaging with leading figures at the party conferences, BCS, along with Google, co-sponsored the Parliamentary Internet, Communications & Technology Forum’s (PICTFOR) most prestigious event of the year, the annual dinner at the House of Lords.
The event brought together a hundred parliamentarians and senior industry representatives to look back at the achievements of the sector in 2023. The key theme of the event was Responsible Tech for an Inclusive Future.
Julia Adamson MBE, BCS MD of Education and Public Benefit was one of the keynote speakers, along with Baroness Barran MBE -the Education Minister responsible for AI and Data within the Department for Education; the Shadow Schools Minister, Catherine McKinnell MP, and Cait O’Riordan, Vice President, Product Management at Google.
Bridging the gaps
Baroness Barran began her speech by saying the closing the attainment gap was a priority for the current government. “If we all woke up in three or five years time and we’d been brilliantly successful at the responsible and inclusive use of technology, what would the world look like? We would be clearly closing the attainment gap in schools in relation to children from disadvantaged backgrounds and children with special educational needs and disabilities,” she said.
Secondly we’d have, she said an ‘amazing pipeline’ of skills at every level across the economy. Her third point was that, most importantly, technology would be trusted and understood, in particular with relation to AI. “Without that trust and understanding, we won’t see the adoption and engagement we need to make sure that technology is used in a responsible way,” she said.
Cait O’Riordan, Vice President, Product Management at Google outlined the various technologies for good produced by the tech giant and the wide range of skills programmes that Google has nurtured in the UK. She also spoke about the need to bridge the skills gap to deploy, for instance AI, effectively. Cait also said the company placed a huge emphasis on innovating responsibly and addressing societies challenges.
Tech for good
Julia began her speech by saying she was a proud mum and an advocate for inclusion and she wanted others to share her passion to create a world where everyone thrives. She firmly believed that technology holds the key to a fairer, cleaner, safer, and healthier world for all.
She said: “Political decisions about emerging technologies, like AI, are critical for our children's future, transcending election cycles. The responsibility lies heavily on policymakers to define the life chances of the next generation. My challenge to the next government is to prioritise expert teachers in computing education and digital skills reform, focusing on research and insight-led policies over ideology.”
She emphasised the importance of a transformative education system and how by working with teachers- experts, strong guard rails could be established for computing and skills, ensuring technology is used to maximize public benefit, minimize discrimination, and accelerate social justice, equity, and inclusion.
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She left the audience with three key take aways:
- First, computer science knowledge empowers people in a digital world. Curricula must reflect real-world relevance, integrating concepts like AI and quantum computing from an early age.
- Second, we must encourage more women and girls to pursue careers in technology, tapping into an overlooked pool of talent.
- Lastly, prioritise digital literacy with a new qualification for all students, fostering discerning critical users of emerging technologies.
Commenting on Julia’s speech, the Shadow Schools Minister, Catherine McKinnell MP told the audience: “You gave a very exciting vision for the future and a passion for delivering this within our education system. We very much share that passion with you and have prioritised expert teachers and I can tick off most of what you have asked for in terms of our priorities.”
It was chaired by the PICTFOR Chair Dame Caroline Dinenage MP, who introduced the speakers, and the event host was the PICTFOR Treasurer, The Rt Hon. Lord McNally. Other prominent guests invited by BCS were Professor of Computer Science and Tech Evangelist, Sue Black OBE, Dr Anne Marie Imafidon, CEO of Stemettes, which inspires women and nonbinary people into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, and Mark Martin MBE, aka the @Urban_Teacher, who shares his expertise on teaching computer science to educators around the world.
Influencing the influencers
Speaking after the dinner Julia said: “This event was an excellent opportunity to engage a very broad group of influencers, it struck me how joined up we were on our collective vision for a plentiful, diverse, talent pipeline for the IT profession, that tech gives us the opportunity to leave a better world for our children. The future can be bright if we choose it, and education and skills play a crucial role in delivering that bright future.”
Dan Aldridge BCS Head of Policy added: “It was a fabulous night which put BCS at the heart of Parliament and the greater tech community. This prestigious event saw 100 technology leaders, including over 20 parliamentarians, focus on discussions about how each of the political parties plan to make tech good for society and rise to the challenges and opportunities that tech offers us all.”
Pictfor is an All-Party Parliamentary Group that brings together parliamentarians from all parties and both Houses, along with key players in the technology sectors. The annual dinner is a celebration of the continued relationship, collaboration and cooperation of the tech sector and Parliament.