As the Internet turns forty, we must invest in digital skills to make London the epicentre of a new wave of innovation
The modern Internet as we know it officially turned middle-aged on the first day of January 2023. It’s no exaggeration to say it has transformed our human existence. From online learning and dating, to managing our finances and making each other laugh, the degree to which the Internet has shaped our lives in a relatively short amount of time is immeasurable.
When people turn 40, it’s common for many to take stock of how things are going, and where things might need to change. Forty years since the inception of the Internet, where will the next seismic wave of innovation in the UK come from? And will the capital be at the heart of it?
London is the UK’s tech epicentre, home to some of the most innovative companies in the tech space, both large and small. Research and development of technologies such as 5G, future networks, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) continue apace in the capital.
But to link up everyone, everywhere, we need a new world of connectivity that learns and adapts. To do so, the economics of the Internet need to change and how we design and operate the networks that underpin it must evolve.
One of the key technologies that will drive the future of the Internet is the transition to a more “predictive” web, fuelled by AI. This means technologies that can learn, predict and plan, pre-empting problems before they happen. One thing people hate more than queuing in a shop is queuing or having a lacklustre experience online, where our attention index is much lower than in real life. In fact, 57 per cent of people say brands have one shot to impress them, but if their digital service does not perform, they won’t use said brand again.
For the last few years, we have spent an inordinate amount of time behind video screens. Many tech companies are investing in avatar makers, but the next iteration is more likely to lie in hologram projections – as unhinged as that might sound to some more sceptical Internet users. Predictive networking will be key to dealing with the demands of immersive applications like these.
But how do we make all of this possible? With a recession looming, digital skills will play a critical role in boosting our economy, increasing our employability, and driving our innovation. We need specialised knowledge to operate a more predictive web.
But over half – 53 per cent – of employers in London say they have struggled to recruit people with the advanced digital skills they need, compared to just over one in three – 37 per cent – across the rest of the country, according to economic modelling commissioned by Cisco from the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
This modelling further finds that a more inclusive digital society in London alone could add £29.7bn to the economy by 2030, the largest of any UK region. This could create a tangible, near-term opportunity for the capital. It would be achieved by connecting everyone to high-quality broadband, digitising key industries and public services, and widening access to digital skills.
In these challenging times, accelerating digitisation will not only help to power an inclusive future but boost our economy and transform how we live, work, and compete on a global scale. Government, local authorities, and businesses need to work in partnership to invest in our digital future and enhance the networks that will connect everyone. The Internet is not suffering a mid-life crisis; rather, it is ready to take us to the next generation of innovation.