Solutions for real problems, or England’s dreaming

One misplaced symbol in coding can make the entire project malfunction. The same is true for society where one crazy individual can wreak havoc for many. Given how much the British government is putting its faith (and cash) into technological solutions they would do well to take this on board. Any chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Currently the British government is granting £50 million to Tech City and a further £600 million funding for ‘science and research‘ including a staggering £189 million for big data (although the press release doesn’t specify what about big data-would it be wrong to suggest they have no idea?). The other main story feed coming from the government just now is one of austerity so severe that we can no longer afford to look after the vulnerable and weak in our society.

I understand that  investment must happen to stimulate growth and that no one can afford to finance hangers-on and the work shy, but it has to be noted that there is a serious flaw in the current thinking  and mostly in the execution of that thinking ,which given the recent history of riots can and should not be ignored. All the investment in the world won’t help Britain if people are scared to walk its streets. “Any government investment (£50m+ or otherwise) into technology must not only be about simplistic notions of growth but about how it will help address existing social problems and ensure everyone can benefit.” F.Rahman

Last week I went to a talk by Evgeny Morozov  (which you can watch here )   where he discusses his book – “To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism, and the Urge to Fix Problems that Don’t Exist.” I broadly agree with some of his points and I like anyone who bothers to question the status quo regarding technological devotionalism, but I feel there is a place for solutionism that is being ignored because it doesn’t generate obvious profit- that is the solving of real problems of which our society has many.

This talk got me thinking  that were the intellect and ingenuity, that undoubtedly exist around tech city right now, to be harnessed towards the real problems that this society has then we really could be getting somewhere. In order for that to happen profit has to be understood in more than just financial terms. The question is are people prepared to do this.

Soon the government is overhauling the entire benefits system by the introduction of universal credit, which will change the daily lives of millions of the poorest in society, quite possibly for the worse. This is effectively a misplaced tech solution for poverty that has been generated without understanding the nature and problems of poverty-  it must be applied for online and relies on recipients having bank accounts, also all payments are monthly. No thought has been given to the fact that many of those most in need do not have adequate access to tech to even make the initial application and do not have bank accounts. There is a huge need and potential right now for a meeting of minds of technologists and charity workers  to engage  together to help make this system function well otherwise there is a genuine likelihood of swathes of hungry people out on the streets. This may sound overly dramatic but given the track history of this government in explaining changes and aiding the vulnerable to deal with those changes I do not think it is. Only last week a 70 yr old man was admitted to hospital after trying to cut his own throat because he was so stressed about losing his family home to the “bedroom tax” . This happened less than a mile away from the London parliament buildings. If things were working well that could not have happened. Also there would not be charity  foodbanks popping up everywhere.

I have spoken to people who work in the charity finance sector and they are very keen to get together with bright tech minds to try to solve some of the problems that this universal credit will bring – to avert the impending chaos. The question I ask  is are the bright tech minds ready to get involved. Can we organise a  hackathon to avert poverty?foodbank9

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