It needs to be accepted that access to technology is fast becoming a human right. For this reason I propose a two part solution to the digital divide.
Firstly, the long term and ever-increasing technological inequalities must be addressed as soon as possible. The more the world moves to online solutions and services, the further behind those that are already disadvantaged are left. My proposed solution to this is ‘UK technology credits’. This can be means tested, and/or vouchered so there are clear limits on what such funds can be used for, and so those who don’t need this support aren’t wasting funds. But it should be of utmost priority of the Government to ensure every UK household has access to the internet (the credit should include funds for data allowance), a laptop and phone. Or even the ability to rent or loan technology – e.g from a library. There should also be a central government scheme (see the UK Crowd-resource platform submission) for donating old technology so that this can be redistributed, reducing the costs of such an initiative, and a waiting list for such technologies in the same way people register for housing.
Such a scheme would pay for itself as the growing number of online free education, jobs boards, etc. would allow disadvantaged groups rapid and wide access to resources.
Once this occurs, then the possibilities to rapidly solve so many of society’s problems and challenges grows exponentially. It also means there are endless possibilities for the UK Government to lead the way globally and technologically innovate!
One such example and the second part to this solution is to create an AI teaching assistant. Note, the first part in ensuring everyone has technology access is required, so this doesn’t become a tool that grows the divide and helps those who already have the most whilst leaving those who don’t have further behind. This AI teaching assistant can level out the inequalities caused by differences that exist in school quality, or availability of adult support for children. It also means that instead of mentoring and tutors being accessed only by those children whose families can afford it, those who aren’t further disadvantaged by this educational divide and instead will have access to technology and innovation to supplement their education.
It is relatively straightforward to create an AI-powered chat bot, and this is a technology already trusted, used and advised by the national services (e.g. online therapy courses, or apps e.g. Wysa). The national curriculum and the wide range of open-source teaching and online course tools and data can be used to develop an app. Students can build a profile and complete quizzes to determine their current level of ability and then AI recommendations on courses, videos, resources to work on. This data could be shared with schools so they get a picture of where students are at and tailor classes and teaching to meet the needs of the class they are teaching (e.g. if the data shows the majority are struggling with fractions, then they can know to focus on this in a revision lesson). This aggregate data can be used by the government to make improvements to the national curriculum and lead data driven decision making for education. The app can also be used to provide additional skills lessons and information, e.g. budgeting for kids. The content can be provided by the many charities that exist in this space. The government could run challenges from the app to encourage creativity and engagement amongst children. The app can have animated videos, quizzes, games, with the wealth of online tools aimed at improving the quality and style of education to increase engagement with children.
The app can then have AI powered problem/answer ability – for children who need further help and walk-throughs with a specific topic, making this interactive and providing questions throughout. The search can be limited to ensure the information is child-friendly. Users can link with friends to see profiles and challenge each other to quizzes or educational games and encourage each other’s progress. This should really supplement and support the traditional teaching experience and ensure a child always has a place to ask a question and find help with their education needs.
Reminders for homework can be scheduled and AI recommendations provided for resources to help, as well as regularly updating the skill and ability profile so parents can see where their children might need extra support. This can be primarily aimed at children, but even widened to adults e.g. college courses, national skills courses etc.
Such technology can also then be applied to other areas, for example, an AI personal training or health and wellbeing assistant – using existing videos from various sources e.g. exercise videos linked on the NHS website, nutrition guides etc. Users can input goals and have the app remind them, as well as be able to chat with the AI bot to record difficulties, amend the programme, get encouragement and motivation, and as a search tool to find guidance and information. Examples include: finding a local free exercise class, finding a local park with outdoor gym equipment, finding a guide to different food sources, linking to mental health apps and meditation videos and allow routines and reminders to be scheduled to encourage people to commit to these activities on a daily basis. This could be rolled into the NHS app and contain symptom tracking, so users have one place for health and wellbeing support. A public app such as this would lead the way for governments using technology to improve citizen wellbeing and society.