The pandemic, the digital transformation and what happens next
When I entered the engineering workforce as a new graduate, access to computers and related activities such as browsing and emailing were the preserve of the few working in the larger engineering organisations. Internet and the world wide web catered mainly for scientists and engineers. At the time I did not imagine how pervasive these would become and that vast numbers of people would be using small mobile devices.
My first task as a graduate engineer was to design the on-board computer for a low earth orbit satellite. One of these satellites delivered medical information to remote parts of Africa. A doctor in the field would upload a request for information using a ‘small portable’ transmitter. Half a day later as the satellite passed over the UK or US, the request was fulfilled by a medical school library or a specialist doctor, an early example of telemedicine. Telemedicine and computer networks for that matter have come a long way since then and no doubt there is a lot more to come. People living in some of the more remote corners now possess mobile phones. In fact, in some African countries mobile phones are used almost exclusively for money transfers and payment among the general population, while farmers in remote regions use them to receive weather information to assist crop growth.
This has been a difficult year for all of us. Never before has IT played such an important role in enabling businesses and educational establishments to continue as best as they can. It is difficult to imagine what would life have been in lockdown without Zoom and Netflix and for universities in a pre-internet era. Pandemics did happen pre-internet, but we’ve just collectively forgotten what that experience was like.
The pandemic has sped up digital transformation and I’d like to think that the aspects of the transformation that are beneficial will be sustained and that the adoption of technology will continue to grow at an even faster pace. I believe this is a good time to be a computer engineering or computer science student.
Though there are many benefits to an increasingly digital world, there are some shortcomings that have been highlighted by the pandemic. Not least is the lack of access to digital tools for all (computers, broadband, etc…) and digital literacy or digital confidence. School children living in households without or with little access to computers and broadband are at a disadvantage, as are those not familiar with internet shopping.
As technology continues to progress rapidly, it is important that these issues are tackled head-on to ensure that we can all benefit from the latest digital transformation.
Professor Dorothy Monekosso was elected to the Honorary Fellowship of the BCS. The chief executive of the BCS spoke of Dorothy’s world-leading contribution to the development of smart technologies, and in particular her work on devices which help people living with dementia to remain in their own homes for longer. He cites Dorothy’s tireless campaigning, and her leadership by example, for greater diversity and inclusiveness in the IT industry.
Dorothy Monekosso is Professor of Computer Science in the Faculty of Arts, Engineering, and Technology, Leeds Beckett University. She holds a PhD in Space Systems Engineering from the Surrey Space Centre, University of Surrey.