Wales needs a new industrial revolution. It needs growth, wealth and meaningful jobs for a high-skilled workforce. But how to achieve this?
Looking back to the first industrial revolution – of which Wales was the original club member – provides the clue. The origins of that revolution lay in fuel – specifically coal. A product that was three times more energy efficient than wood or charcoal. This was burned to provide energy in the form of heat which was used to generate steam power. This can be seen as the conversion process. Steam power was then utilised in an innovative way to create and run the railways. From this nation-wide transportation system appeared a state of industrialisation – iron and steel, coal mines, ports, industrial towns and many spin-off products and services. This is the creative process – the generation of ideas that can be turned into products and services. Making power pay.
At the moment, we are presented with the digital economy. It’s very exciting and depends on the same two processes but the new fuel is data. Data is used to provide information which is then analysed to bring about knowledge. Knowledge is the new power. This is the data conversion process but it is seemingly stuck at the knowledge stage. Very few attempts have successfully made it through to the creative process. The ‘knowledge’ economy has resulted in many lower and middle level jobs being made redundant. The arrival of greater knowledge through artificial intelligence purports to do the same for high-level work: doctors, accountants and lawyers. Unless we can break through the knowledge barrier and into the creative process it appears unlikely that many of us will be working in the future. But it can be done and Wales can do it.
As has been shown for the first industrial revolution, fuel is at the heart of the matter and the new fuel is data. It is hugely precious and has enabled some powerful modern start-ups such as Facebook and Google to become amongst the wealthiest companies in the world. They provide services free in exchange for your data. Now this data is very important and much desired – otherwise these companies would not be so prominently wealthy – but it is fairly simplistic. Essentially, it feeds the lower end of the knowledge economy and enables firms to become more efficient and effective in areas such as inventory control, marketing and production. Unfortunately, it inevitably results in redundancies for workers in those areas. However, this can be changed.
In order to power through into the creative process requires very superior knowledge. This can only be achieved through the use of high quality data. Wales has a huge resource of this precious fuel that is owned and financed by the Welsh government: The National Health Service. The NHS is a perfect example of high quality data that is gained from medical records. It is wide ranging and involves the simple and straight-forward along with the highly technical and complex. In undertaking a patient’s diagnosis, doctors have their own knowledge to draw upon and the information concerning the patients that sit before them. An artificially intelligent machine could have a vast amount of data to assemble into crucial information to provide the most superior knowledge. And build upon that knowledge – through learning – to make it better again. Essentially, if the most efficient and effective diagnosis is required at every consultation, then AI is the only way to go.
This movement into the use of anonymised medical records would not only provide a superior diagnostic service for the NHS but a vast volume of knowledge to be used in the creative process through the architecture of innovation. The resulting ideas that could be generated would meet the needs of Big Pharma for many years along with many ancillary industries and those not connected to medicine. An entrepreneurial NHS would be a huge pot of gold for the Welsh economy that would transform Wales into a wealthy high-tech economy. A nation engaged with the industrialisation of ideas. And, of course, it would also require the transformation of a poorly educated young workforce into one claiming the possession of high skills. An event that would place huge demands upon high-skill trainers to achieve their goal in a very short time. But it can all be done easily and quickly if there’s a strong will of motivation. Wales did it once and is surely well positioned to do it again.
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