The future is here, now - if only our political and business leaders had the vision to see it

If you had the time-travelling opportunity to read the forthcoming issue of Computer Weekly magazine just a few years ago, you might have assumed it was a review of BBC Tomorrow’s World. There’s virtual reality, artificial intelligence (AI) for financial advice, smart cities, internet of things, autonomous delivery robots – even robotic concierge services in hotels.

These are all technologies that not so long ago were considered tantamount to science fiction – yet here they are, every one of them being used in real-life situations and on the verge of becoming mainstream.

We will have to lament the lack of a Star Trek transporter system for some time to come, but for many of us, things that in our lifetime were once considered fantastical and futuristic, are now very real.

For any organisation – whether a business or a public body – there are so many technologies available to help take a step up in competitiveness, profitability, efficiency, customer service, cost-effectiveness or any other core objectives. Technology is helping us get more value from our time and our assets – through so-called sharing economy services such as AirBnB or Uber, for example.

The scope for innovation is greater than it has ever been.

We’re on the cusp of an enormous economic displacement from what you might call an analogue economy to a digital one, with huge amounts of GDP already transferring from low-tech activities – such as print advertising – to technology enabled ones, such as search ads.

So what’s stopping us?

For all the unwarranted scaremongering about robots or AI stealing our jobs, the biggest single factor holding us back as an economy and a society from taking this great leap forward in innovation is people. There just aren’t enough people with the skills, awareness and vision leading governments and businesses to make it happen – nor enough with the technical skills to put it all together and make it work.

This week saw an effort around International Women’s Day to encourage more women into technology. There are so many such initiatives now that if every one of them had pushed just 10 women each into the sector, we could stop talking about the diversity gap – but still it persists.

Getting more women into IT is just one obvious way to bridge the people and skills gap, but the people problem is not going away without real leadership vision – especially in government policy. Next week sees George Osborne’s latest Budget – you can be sure it will lack any such vision for the future.

The adoption of all these amazing technologies is eventually going to happen – the momentum is unstoppable. But it’s too slow, and every lost minute is a wasted opportunity for us all, economically, culturally and personally. We all need to call on our leaders to step up.

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