A Ddylai Robotiad Siarad Cymraeg? (Should robots speak Welsh?)
I was delighted to host my first event at the 2018 Eisteddfod in Cardiff last week.
On the penultimate day of what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest Eisteddfod’s of recent times, the sun shone down on the Senedd, as we convened some of Wales’ best experts and practitioners in all things digital.
The Friday evening slot did not detract from the event’s popularity. Around 40 people showed up to hear from Jeremy Evas, Indeg Williams, Meilys Heulfryn Smith, Sue Jeffries, Bethan Sayed AC a Huw Marshall to discuss the future of the Welsh language in the context of automation and the fourth industrial revolution.
I posed the challenge to our expert panel: Should robots speak Welsh?
When people talk about the future of digital, the future of automation, and the impacts of AI on our daily lives, they‘re already behind the times. Because, to talk about digital as if it’s something for the future, is a failure to realise that digital is present in the here and now. Digital is here – automation is already happening.
Digital is already a huge part of our lives. How many of us used Google maps to check the live traffic updates this morning? Asked Alexa what the weather was going to be like before you left the house?
Whether we notice it or not, and whether we like it or not, digital already impacts a huge part of our lives. And it’s vital that we are not just thinking about the here and now, but the impacts and implications of digital for the future.
With the Well-being of Future Generations Act, we have not just the opportunity but the legal duty to ensure we are working in the best interests of future generations and all aspects of their well-being; economic, environmental, social and cultural.
And that addition of ‘cultural’, is a world-first when it comes to the aspects of sustainable development – but as we have seen through the amazing success of the Eisteddfod over the last week is an area that is no less important to the people of Wales and our culture.
How do we guarantee equality and visibility of the Welsh Language? So much of the voice-controlled technology we depend on only understands English. Alexa currently only works in English and German. Does this mean that in households that are Welsh-speaking, the language is somehow downgraded?
Outside of London, Wales has the fastest growing digital economy in Britain. The IT sector in Wales employs around 24,000 people and is predicted to add around £1.5 billion to the economy over the next 5 years. But we also know, that by 2030, one in four jobs in Welsh cities could be lost to robots. What are the opportunities here for a uniquely tailored Welsh approach to digital innovation that allows the Welsh language to flourish?
When we look at some of the statistics, here in Wales:
- 84% have internet access
- 38% get their news from the internet
- 33% of households have a smart TV
- 65% own and use a smartphone
- 8 hours on average spent on the internet per person per week
But there is also the question of digital exclusion. 19% of the Welsh adult population do not regularly use the internet – how can we ensure that our approach here in Wales ensures no one is left behind?
There are several opportunities for us to get this right. The Welsh Government’s Digital Review is looking at advancement in automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and large scale data.
At the National Assembly, the Committee on Culture, Welsh Language and Communications (chaired by Bethan Sayed AM), are currently consulting with the public on what inquiry it undertakes next. They are asking for views via this short survey, to determine which one in a list of potential areas is a priority area for a committee inquiry.
The passion in the room that summer evening was palpable. There were debates on public services using VR, making Welsh the language of business, and even developing an MIT for Wales! It is time now for Wales to galvanise that ambition – and lead the way as an international digital leader.