Clare Curran: Data scientists play key roles in bridging digital divide
- 19 June, 2018 06:30
Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister Clare Curran enlists the help of the country’s leading data professionals in the campaign to bridge the digital divide and promote digital rights and privacy.
Across all industries, the huge growth in internet-connected devices is changing how businesses operate, says Curran, in her keynote at the annual SUNZ (SAS Users New Zealand) conference in Wellington.
“With more data, they can become more insight-driven and respond more effectively to customers. But more data means more complexity – in the data being generated and in how it is processed and used,” she says.
“We are running the risk of data overload and analytics - conducted within an ethical framework - is needed more than ever to make sense of this vast wealth of data and ensure all New Zealanders and their rights are protected,” she says.
There are so many possibilities for human advancement and so many opportunities for all of us, says Curran, in her keynote at the annual SUNZ (SAS Users New Zealand) conference in Wellington.
“We are seeing truly exciting developments such as face and movement recognition controlling the everyday machines and appliances we use; biocompatible microbots repairing our injuries from within; antibiotics that are designed for our biochemistry; big data and predictive AI predicting with near certainty what will happen next, from elections to evolution, to geopolitical situations,” she says.
“But I can also see that technology brings with it some things that are not going to benefit us all and some things that may cause us harm.
“I believe that how we manage new technologies and data and how we protect people’s private information is one of the most important issues of our time.”
How we manage new technologies and data and how we protect people’s private information is one of the most important issues of our time
She calls on the more than 300 data professionals to share their expertise in the government’s goal to reduce the digital divide across New Zealand.
“As key players in the technology and analytics field, you have a role to play too in ensuring that the future we shape is inclusive and fair.”
“You can make a difference in helping increase people’s digital literacy and understanding of data and analytics. And you can work to increase the diversity in your respective fields, building a strong workforce that is more representative of our world.”
She says the SUNZ members can also share their insights with the Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group.
This group, with 15 members led by Frances Valintine, will advise the Government on how to build the digital economy and reduce the digital divides.
This is a highly collaborative team who see their own stakeholders, colleagues, communities, and the public, as virtual members of the group.
“I encourage you, as experts in the data analytics field, to take the opportunity to put ideas forward to the group and also to think about what steps you can take to ensure that digital services are available to everyone.”
She cites The future of work commission report, undertaken by the Labour Party when it was still in the opposition, which looked at the disruption of work through technology and its impact in New Zealand.
She says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is taking the research to the next level - futureproofing the economy by having the budget and environmental sustainability to prepare people for climate change and the reality that 40 per cent of current jobs will not exist in a decade.
“The idea is to try to stay ahead of the curve or on the curve,” she says. “And to have a robust plan to future proof the economy, we have to work together.”
“We want to ensure digital inclusion for all New Zealand, for all of us, not just some of us.”
“We need to keep on having these discussions, to keep on challenging where you think it is not working or not enough is being done.”
Analytics with ethics
She says part of her job is to ensure the government can prepare the country and its people in the best way to stay safe in this rapidly changing world.
“We must ensure all our people have the conditions they need to be happy and prosperous,” she says.
She links this with the key priorities across her portfolio: to protect people’s digital rights; strengthen the digital economy; and drive innovation and economic development.
“My aim is to see all New Zealanders thriving in a digital world, able and willing to interact with their government and trusting in our democracy.”
She says this means ensuring the right building blocks are in place so all Kiwis can access and use digital technologies.
The government must have the right levers and tools in place to grow the economy and build strong and cohesive communities.
“Key to this is building trust in government.”
You can make a difference in helping increase people’s digital literacy and understanding of data and analytics
She says she is working closely with the Statistics Minister James Shaw to look into how the government uses people’s data and protects the citizens’ privacy in the digital era.
“As experts, you will all know about how quickly technology is moving and how much data we are producing.
“We need to be thinking about the implications and risks for our citizens. We need experts like yourselves, who know how to collect data, then analyse and draw conclusion from it that protect and help people, rather than hurt them.
“Because we can process massive amounts of data at lightning speeds, we can also make bad decisions quickly and with far greater impact than ever before,” she says. “Analytics with ethics is needed more than ever.”
Curran says it is vital to have ethical frameworks in the use of data, from collection to ensuring that is secure.
“We need to be able to articulate the benefit we expect to get from the data we collect and be able to demonstrate fairness and respect towards people in how the data is used.
As she points out, the experiences of other countries have shown how new technologies can be used in ways that impede people’s freedoms – which, in turn, inhibits the free functioning of a vibrant and civil society.
“We need to think about how we can protect our human rights in the digital age.”
We recently announced a project to assess how government agencies use algorithms to analyse people’s data.
We are looking at our own hood, so to speak, she says.
“Big data and algorithms can help government provide better services, but we need to make sure we’re open and transparent about how they are being is used,” she says.
We need to consider the extent to which individuals should be informed if systems are using algorithms to process their data, what factors are considered by the algorithm, and what decisions are made as a result.
“We need to consider the extent to which individuals should be informed if systems are using algorithms to process their data, what factors are considered by the algorithm, and what decisions are made as a result. We need to ensure our data and privacy laws are fit for the digital era.”
She says she also called for an action plan and ethical framework to educate and upskill people on artificial intelligence.
“There are economic opportunities but also some pressing risks and ethical challenges with AI and New Zealand is lagging behind comparable countries in its work in these areas,” she says.
“It is important that we move forward with a clear plan for meeting the ethical challenges that AI poses to our legal and political systems.”
She says having a robust digital rights framework is a key component to building trust in society.
She says during a recent meeting with her counterparts from D7, she asked them to work with her on digital rights.
“We are seeing huge growth in artificial intelligence, analytics and automation. At the same time, people are behaving differently online. Their communities and social interactions are changing, being shaped by technology and a huge increase in data creation and collection.
“This massive convergence of technology and society is changing the nature and shape of our communities and the way we interact and operate.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to respond in real time to these advancements of technology and changes and this is having an impact on people’s rights and freedoms.
“And it’s unclear where the biggest violations on human rights may be occurring,” she says.
Thus, she says, it is important to ensure that the relevant regulatory settings remain appropriate in an increasingly digital world and are fit for purpose to protect people’s rights.
She says the D7 has a Digital Rights Working Group that aims to create a multinational framework for digital rights.
“This framework will meet human rights standards and protections,” she says.
It is important that we move forward with a clear plan for meeting the ethical challenges that AI poses to our legal and political systems
“The D7 nations are working together to map the digital rights landscape in our respective countries. This map will look at key areas of concern. The countries will work together to develop global solutions and share examples of best practice,” she states.
“Digital rights and maintaining strong trust with our citizens is a topic we’re taking very seriously,” she tells the forum.
“Many of our everyday interactions and activities are now taking place in the digital environment. This has permanently changed the way that we communicate with one another. We’re doing well in terms of improving connectivity and digital capability for New Zealanders.
But while many people are getting improved connectivity, some people are also being left behind.
Spotlight on digital poverty
Digital inclusion is a priority for the government, she says.
The new measure of poverty is digital poverty through digital exclusion, she says. “We have to make sure we tackle this issue upfront.”
“We want all New Zealanders to have access to the benefits that new technologies offer,” she says.
“Families on low incomes, seniors, and people living outside urban areas are becoming increasingly disenfranchised by lack of access or the inability to afford the internet as well as a lack of skills or motivation to be digitally capable.
She says OECD data shows adults who lack basic ICT skills and literacy earn a lot less than those who are digitally literate.
And while this contrast is seen most vividly in less developed nations, we are still seeing a division here, she says.
An average of 15 per cent of families across New Zealand are without internet access, most of them in lower socio-economic areas, says Curran.
This varies from nearly 50 per cent in areas such as Kawerau, Wairoa and Opotiki, to 4 per cent on Auckland’s North Shore, she says on the findings of The Pulse of the Nation report.
The World Internet Project survey in 2015 also found that Māori and Pacific people were overrepresented among the digitally excluded, with just 87 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively, likely to use the internet.
The same survey observed 76 per cent of Pacific people consider the internet to be "important", while just 60 per cent of Māori agree, says Curran.
The gender gap
She says another facet of the digital divide is the digital gender gap.
In developed countries the digital gender divide is manifesting in the systematic underrepresentation in ICT jobs, top management, and academic careers.
Initial findings reflect that some 250 million fewer women than men are online globally. Also new software packages continue to be predominantly authored by men, says Curran.
“This begs the question about the possible consequences of unintended bias creeping in due to the lower participation of women.”
She says progress is being made in New Zealand, as more IT companies are appointing women to leadership roles and embracing diversity initiatives.
She says one of the big challenges in the digital economy is not having enough people with the right set of skills to work in the digital, data and analytics fields.
As a government, we know we need to look at a range of areas – education, immigration, retraining – to make sure our country has the right set of skills for the futurem she states.
She says the government policy of free three years in tertiary education is aimed not only at students from universities or polytechs, but also those in in the trades sector who have never had tertiary training.
“This is an opportunity to train or retrain to enable themselves to move to an industry, to a sector, where there is a future rather than a market disappearing,” she says.
“We have to look at education as learning for life.”
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