Labour has always been a party of industry. It was born out of the white heat of the industrial revolution, determined to fashion a new and positive role for the workers of Britain and gain proper rights for them. Indeed, throughout its long and distinguished history Labour has been a party striving to understand and improve upon technological advances.
During the 1960s this was epitomised by Harold Wilson. Wilson was a true technocrat – his support for projects such as the BT Tower is testament to that- and his attempts to modernise the British economy and British industry were as impressive in their ambition as they were in their ultimate failure. Wilson made great advances but ultimately, he was unable to create a truly modern Britain due to economic storms which battered Britain.
However, Wilson’s vision is one that can still be completed. Now, more than ever technology must be at the heart of policy. Fifty years ago, even the futuristic Wilson could not have imagined the power of the technological advances that have been made in recent years.
Television and cinema have been superseded by online streaming services; food and products can be ordered online and delivered to your door; any human being can access a wealth of knowledge greater than any library assembled in human history through the internet. Yet these advances are not being properly dealt with by legislators.
How will we deal with artificial intelligence (AI), with weapons so deadly and yet able to kill without human instruction? The alarming lack of policy from any party or nation should concern us all.
Whilst steps are finally being put forward to deal with online abuse, the internet is still a wild west in terms of legislation. No government seems to want to tackle it because it may be too difficult – they prefer to ignore it and try and focus on out of date solutions to problems.
Similarly, steps are not being done to regulate the advance of weaponry; as the 2016 Netflix documentary series Dark Net demonstrated, Americans have already developed a way to use 3D printers to “print” fully automatic and functional guns. These weapons have no license, are completely untraceable and can be made by anyone with the right resources. Yet, in either America or Britain, nothing has been done to deal with these possible threats.
It isn’t just individuals who are creating dangerous new types of weaponry that is being developed. Both the US and China are racing towards the development of autonomous weapons – drones which are barely visible from the sky and do not need a human operator to order for them to kill. Such dangerous weapons, in the wrong hands, could lead to catastrophic loss of life. Yet nothing is being done by any government to deal with these pressing threats.
This is not to say, however, that technology is entirely bad – developments in technology have lead to aid being able to get to devastated nations much easier than before.
It is easier to connect with one another – to build new friendships, to organise political movements, to connect with politicians and celebrities. Through the internet and modern technology, we can achieve so much. Yet once again, there seems to be no great effort to come up with policy that effectively uses the internet – whilst it may be great to use it to campaign for elections, that is not its only use.
Given the black hole in policy it is therefore vital that Labour steps up to the mark and makes solid, detailed policy based around new and future technology. Imagination, investment and the will to implement change to regulate social media outlets so they are not abused; to confidently and clearly determine what AI can be used for and what it should be not allowed to interfere with; how we can help new tech companies like Uber to thrive but not in a climate where they abuse guidelines to protect their workers and their customers.
Labour needs to do this and more – STEM subjects are male dominated and often talented women are put off pursuing careers in this area because of a lack of encouragement and prejudice. This can be aided by greater encouragement through media – such as a current show touring Britain about one of the first great computer engineers, Ada Lovelace. The future of technology is the future of us all and diversity in this area must be encouraged and implemented.
As Wilson said to the Scarborough party conference of 1963 “In all our plans for the future, we are re-defining and we are re-stating our socialism in terms of the scientific revolution.”
Wilson was right to use his technocratic genius to put forward a vision of a Britain that embraced technology, that understood its limits but wanted to grasp its potential. Wilson failed to make Britain exactly how he wanted it to be made. But his vision lives on. Like the Labour movement of the Industrial Revolution we must recognise the pitfalls of technology but also the advances that they brought forward. Labour must therefore embrace the digital revolution and ensure that as a party we are united in advancing and developing technology for the benefit of us all.