How to build democracy with technology away from elections

There is a lot to be said for a British general election. It is brutally fast in delivering the people’s verdict. It uses technology that everyone can understand and is impossible to hack remotely. And in returning to Rick Wakeman’s prog-rock classic, the BBC has given it back its theme music.

But elections alone are a pretty thin form of democracy. Those who shifted from Labour to vote Conservative did so because of Jeremy Corbyn, because of the party’s far-left manifesto, because of Brexit, because they like Boris Johnson or a mix of these and others. The reasons will come out in surveys and interviews, but aren’t a formal part of the results and the government can ignore them. Continue reading “How to build democracy with technology away from elections”

For organisations, Brexit means deal with it

Britain is a world-leader in genomics. When I heard George Freeman MP, the chair of the prime minister’s policy board, tell a conference that despite having voted Remain he thought Brexit could lead to a better regulatory framework for genomics, it sounded like a story. Computer Weekly published the resulting article last week.

UK organisations concerned with genomics didn’t seem to want to discuss it, however. Apart from a short statement from the Department of Health and Mr Freeman’s comments, I interviewed a specialist lawyer and Kari Stefansson, the founder of Icelandic genomics firm deCode Genetics, who suggested that public healthcare should only be available if patients participate in genomic research.

Organisations should be considering and talking about the opportunities Brexit brings, as well as working to mitigate its dangers. In public sector IT, some suppliers already serve the UK and other Anglophone countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, given similar legal and political structures; new trade deals could help expand this. And if Brexit allows regulatory changes that boost genomic research, they are surely worth considering. Continue reading “For organisations, Brexit means deal with it”

It’s Facebook wot wins votes

The Facebook fake news fuss is a distraction compared with the company’s bigger impact on politics: its ability to micro-target advertising based on its detailed knowledge of its users. As I wrote earlier this month for The Register, Facebook has helped the Conservatives to win the 2015 general election, pro-Brexit campaigners to win the referendum and Donald Trump the US presidency.

Facebook uses the Tory victory in its marketing to other political campaigners. As far as I can see it isn’t yet boasting about its role in Brexit, which included Leave.EU using Facebook to target racists until it got caught out by the Remain campaign. Continue reading “It’s Facebook wot wins votes”

This England: a gaunt view from Ghent

This sceptred isle, this other Eden, this England and all that. I like to imagine this speech from Richard II spoken in a Flemish accent, given it is delivered by John of Gaunt – or as we now call it, Ghent.

Ghent is a great place to spend a few days, something like a combination of Oxford and Newcastle with an ancient, well-preserved city centre, a major port and lots of students. But going round its excellent museums you get a sense of departed glory. STAM, the city history museum, uses graphics to show how Ghent’s population was comparable to Paris and Brussels in the 16th century. But Ghent is now a city of just quarter of a million people. Continue reading “This England: a gaunt view from Ghent”

Brexit doesn’t have to mean Techxit

The technology bosses I spoke to last week for The Register were largely dismayed by the Brexit vote. Some are personally affected, as non-British EU citizens waiting for confirmation that they can stay. Others are starting to deal with the issues; LMAX Exchange boss David Mercer emailed all his staff, including about 30 European IT employees, saying he would get them visas if necessary.

Many of the worries of technology firms, along with other high-skill sectors such as healthcare and academia, would be soothed if immigration for skilled Europeans was to remain relatively easy. Theresa May is making it clear that Britain is not keen on an EU deal that retains complete freedom of movement. But the government could achieve its goals of cutting mass immigration by allowing some industries plenty of latitude to hire across the EU – and perhaps from the likes of Australia, Canada and New Zealand – while tightening up on unskilled jobs. Continue reading “Brexit doesn’t have to mean Techxit”