The BCS community was the heart of key IT issues in early 2023, from regulating Artificial Intelligence to security concerns around TikTok – with one of our members, Lisa Forte, appearing on the BBC's Newsnight programme to talk about the social media platform.
February saw a government reshuffle and the creation of the new standalone Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT). Senior BCS members and staff worked closely with DSIT to shape the government's white paper on AI regulation. We successfully argued for additions featured in the final draft, including AI Sandboxes - safe testing environments - and our views reached a broad audience.
Our CEO, Rashik Parmar, was quoted in the government's announcement alongside Microsoft, DeepMind, TechUK, and Rolls Royce. Trusted professionals with shared ethical values should create AI, said Rashik: "Managing the risk of AI and building public trust is most effective when the people creating it work in an accountable and professional culture rooted in world-leading standards and qualifications."
At the time of writing, the BCS Fellows Technical Advisory Group (F-TAG) and the Public Relations/Policy team are working with members to respond to the latest government consultation on the future of AI, as well as shaping the debate on immersive technologies like Metaverse, the UK's Quantum Strategy and post-quantum cryptography.
BCS is also curating an evidence session for the current inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Metaverse and Web 3.0. The session will be held in Parliament on May 15 and will inform the recommendations of the APPG's report.
As the public debate rages about the impact of automation on education, jobs, in fact, all aspects of our lives, Kavita Kapoor, Chair of Pride at BCS, told Pink News there could be some unexpected benefits too: "Most people fear that jobs may become obsolete due to automation, but like technologies of the past I believe that new opportunities will be created."
Economic threats and opportunities
Whilst some feel there could be opportunities for jobs from AI, there are ongoing concerns about recruiting skilled workers. BCS appeared in the news discussing the shortage of professional staff post-Brexit. Rashik told City am: "We need to make sure people can develop the tech skills they need while working and that they can come into the profession with the right support and training."
Meanwhile, a deal signed between India and the UK was dubbed a "great opportunity" by Rashik in the trade magazine Tech Monitor. The Young Professionals scheme will create a new visa so up to 3,000 professionals from the subcontinent can live and work in the UK.
The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak and the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, have repeatedly emphasised that technology is central to the UK's economic prosperity. Looking at the policy issues DSIT would be dealing with, The New Statesman pondered whether the UK could become the next Silicon Valley, as the Chancellor hoped. The same article also referenced a BCS survey in which our members concluded the Online Safety Bill was not fit for purpose.
ChatGPT in the classroom
Returning to the AI theme, a BCS survey found that 62% of computing teachers were concerned that ChatGPT would make it harder to mark students fairly. The survey results appeared twice across the country in most local and regional press – first as a story in its own right, then quoted in follow-up articles, including TES, about how pupils studying the International Baccalaureate were allowed to cite ChatGPT as a source in essays.
BCS analysis also showed a record number of pupils accepted into computer science courses, possibly because of the increased popularity of AI. The BCS survey was featured in the i newspaper, across local and regional newspapers, and was also quoted in the Daily Mail as part of a broader article on education.
Time up for TikTok?
Love it or loath it, another example of ubiquitous tech was also hitting the headlines – TikTok. The UK Parliament banned the Chinese-owned social media app from its network over security concerns. The app, used by several British MPs, would also be blocked from devices issued to staff.
We worked quickly with the BCS Information Security Specialist Group and our CEO to put together a clear response supporting the ban, connecting the move to public trust and global politics.
Quotes from our CEO appeared in national news and trade mags from the Daily Mail to The Sun to Computer Weekly. One of our leading cyber security experts, Lisa Forte, co-founder of Red Goat, appeared on Newsnight to discuss the issue with Kirsty Wark.
The BCS Policy Jam focussed on the future of TikTok and bought together a panel of experts to myth bust and shine a light on the complex issues around online safety, geopolitics and national security concerns.
Women in Tech
March saw International Women's Day, and BCS female members were featured in a wide-ranging article in The Voice, headlined 'Tech-ing what is ours'. Nnenna Stevenson spoke about the challenges she faced after completing her university studies in Nigeria and landing her dream job in the UK: "At the time, I didn't really understand it as harassment or bullying", she recalled. "I only knew that my managers were giving me a hard time."
Earlier, an in-depth feature for the CIO website profiled over a dozen Black women in tech as a follow-on from the joint BCS and Coding Black Females report The Experiences of Black Women in the IT Industry.
Many were fed up with tokenism and a lack of career progress. "I work like no tomorrow," said a project manager working in financial services. "And I don't get promoted."
Be part of something bigger, join BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT.
BCS also held its third Digital Skills Network event, this time in Glasgow on IWD. Over two hundred delegates packed into the venue to hear speakers, including Jamie Hepburn, MSP, discuss the state of the tech sector north of the border. The conclusion was it's thriving, but gender and skills gaps remain.
During a panel discussion, the incoming BCS President and Fellow, Gillian Arnold, said: "Loads of women didn't return after the pandemic. We're missing all that talent – they're still out there, and we're not making it easy for them."
A week after IWD, BCS marked Gillian's inauguration of its latest president. She called for the tech sector to focus on increasing public trust in tech through ethics and professionalism. Professor Sue Black OBE - Professor of Computer Science at Durham University and Technology Evangelist – was announced as the new Deputy President of BCS.
During National Apprenticeship Week, the i newspaper interviewed several older people who were retraining.
Quoted in the article, Rashik said: "The figure for the over-50s working in IT is significantly lower than in other sectors, as are the proportions of women and people with disabilities.
"This is clearly costing the economy and society, given how computing is woven into everyday life." It followed a statement from the Chancellor suggesting shorter apprenticeships for the over-50s to encourage them back to work.
Always the robot, rarely the scientist
And finally, why are women more likely to be cast as sexy robots instead of scientists in films? This was the thorny question asked in a Daily Telegraph article. Academics at the University of Cambridge studied 142 of the most influential movies featuring AI and found only nine female scientists or professionals.
BCS Fellow Sarah Burnett, the author of The Autonomous Enterprise, Powered by AI, said she wasn't surprised: "In AI and IT in general, women are still in the minority, and often they are not as senior as they could be.
"We need to inspire young women to get into tech as a whole, and film is incredibly influential in shaping their ideas, so it's really important that we do have equal representation."
As ever, this was another fruitful period where BCS kept its profile high in the media and across the government, amplifying the views and expertise of its members and staff.