Baroness Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of Lastminute.com and chair of the digital skills charity, Go ON UK, delivered the 2015 Richard Dimbleby Lecture from the Information Age gallery at the Science Museum. This is an excerpt from her speech.
We need a new national institution to lead an ambitious charge – to make us the most digital nation on the planet.
I don’t say this because I’m a fan of institutions. I say this because the values of the internet have always been a dialogue between private companies and public bodies. And right now the civic, public, non-commercial side of the equation needs a boost. It needs more weight.
We have an opportunity to make Britain brilliant at digital. We’ve been going too slow, being too incremental – in skills, in infrastructure, in public services. We need to be bolder.
A new institution could be the catalyst we need to shape the world we want to live in and Britain’s role in that world. Today, we’re letting big commercial technology platforms shape much of our digital lives, dominating the debate about everything from online privacy to how we build smart cities.
In fact, I probably wouldn’t call it an institution at all. This is no normal public body.
It’s time to balance the world of dot com so I would create DOT EVERYONE.
I would prioritise three areas, that I think best demonstrate the opportunities we should be grabbing with both hands: education, women and ethics.
Firstly, DOT EVERYONE has to help educate all of us, from all walks of life, about the internet. The internet is the organising principle of our age, touching all our lives, every day. As the late activist Aaron Swartz put it, “It’s not OK not to understand the Internet anymore”.
We need to make sure that those in power understand how the internet can help us redefine public services, improve the lives of the most vulnerable, bolster our economy. Leaders and legislators cannot lay claim to grasping the power and potential of the internet just because they’re on Twitter.
Crucially, we must ensure that no one is left behind; that the 10 million adults who can’t enjoy the benefits of being online because they lack basic digital skills, no longer miss out.
Secondly, DOT EVERYONE must put women at the heart of the technology sector. Currently there are fewer women in the digital sector than there are in Parliament.
Something that is for everyone should be built by everyone. Do you think that social media platforms would have done more to stop abuse if they had more women in senior positions? I do. And how about the Apple Health Kit that went to market without anything to do with periods? Building an awesome cohort of female coders, designers, creators would help make us the most digitally successful country on the planet and give us a real edge.
Finally, we should aim for a much more ambitious global role in unpicking the complex moral and ethical issues that the internet presents. For example, what are the implications of an internet embedded in your home appliances? Do children need online rights? What is an acceptable use of drones?
Our rule of law is respected the world over; we should be world-leading in answering these questions.
DOT EVERYONE is new – it won’t and shouldn’t feel familiar. No grey suits, no dusty buildings. It will be an independent organisation. It will have a strong mandate from government, but also from the public – we will be setting its agenda, we will be informing it and taking part in it. It might produce written reports but it would also prototype services. It should show what is possible when you put the internet at the heart of design.
We should be making sure that the original promises of the internet – openness, transparency, freedom and universality – are a protected national asset, as integral to our soft power as Adele, JK Rowling, Shakespeare, or even Downton Abbey.
Britain invented the BBC, the NHS – let’s not have a poverty of ambition – we can and should be inventing the definitive public institution for our digital age.
You can find out more about DOT EVERYONE here.