Digital Means Digital

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See, I can do a meaningless tautology too! Does “Being Digital” really mean anything? If so, what does the recent incorporation of this word, thereby enhancing the Department for Culture, Media and Sport into “being” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, entail for us all?

Well, actually, they are being tasked with devising the“negotiation” positions for 4 of the 18 Working Groups: Creative Industries; Media and Broadcasting; Digital, Tech and Telecoms; and Tourism in the latest Brexit piece of nonsense. Way, way, too much or too little a task you may ask for one of the smallest UK government departments? Just what do these politicians and civil servants actually understand by the word “Digital” itself? Your guess is as good as mine: and I am writing as one, who has submitted responses to their Inquiries, who has followed the Digital Economy Bill through the UK Parliament, and has kept “one eye” on the development of the Digital Single Market agenda in the EU. Oh yes, and the Investigatory Powers Bill and Computer Misuse Bill too. Although it is the new UK Data Protection Bill which is intended to incorporate the already agreed EU General Data Protection Legislation into UK law, next year, which really matters for 5G and the 4th Industrial Revolution. Especially as our parliamentarians begin to really grapple with the future - or not – as the case may be?

What about Artificial Means Artificial? Intelligence Means Intelligence? How about distinguishing between Digital and Discrete? Between Artificial and Synthetic? Between Intelligence and Wisdom? Between Data and Information? What about distinguishing between Digital and Quantum even? Alas what does Synthetic Biology mean? I know. I know: words. However, these words, least we forget, used correctly and in their proper context, are engineering terms (even Biology).

As readers already know I digest the FT in order to follow the machinations of the JMB and The City. In a letter to the FT, 10th July, from a certain Greg Wise, he wrote: “Another electronics term appeared in “City calls for Brexit “digital skills visa” in the same edition (6th July) . The word “Digital” is becoming ubiquitous, and is used far beyond its purpose in digital electronics and Digital Signal Processing, where a knowledge of mathematics such as the Fourier Transform and Z Transform is required. “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler” is attributed to Einstein. He might have added something to the effect that if you are going to appropriate and engineering term for general use, at least be accurate.”. Quite, I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments and certainly it appears that someone at the FT does likewise. The Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, a mathematics graduate, would easily recognise the above context but what about other Parliamentarians? Readers shall also be aware that I supplied the Select Committee's Establishing World Class Connectivity Inquiry with a Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Data Set to enable them to further their knowledge and understanding of the FFT. Incidently, the following day the FT informed its readers on the development of a Quantum Communication Network in Jinan, China and the subsequent day the FT informed The City about the Bank of England's relationship with a Silicon Valley start-up Ripple's Interleger Blockchain test for Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) between central banks. What is the connection between all three articles?

Returning to matters at hand, engineers associate analogue with digital and mathematicians continuous with discrete, subjects I have covered in previous Blogs. However, what about our computer scientists and IT colleagues? Thus words do matter, simply because they are meant to convey meaning, and to provide an appreciation or a “perceived characteristic”, or expectation even, depending on their association or groupings. Hence, what would a wordsmith lawyer make of: Jurisdiction means Jurisdiction? Only kidding – I hope.

Unfortunately much of the digital web site of Hansard is yet to reflect this change of title, especially the Select Committee page itself. Actually there is currently only the Chair, Damien Collins, in place as we await its re-population, once the silly season Parliamentary Recess ends on the 5th September. (Though the Brexit Silly Season wont end till after the 29th March 2019). At this juncture I should belatedly offer condolences to those members who were not returned to Parliament, namely, Andrew Bingham [C], Jason McCartney [C], and John Nicolson [SNP] and offer each many thanks for your insightful contributions. Even if I disagreed with some of your conclusions and more importantly, to me, some serious omissions on your Establishing Broadband Connectivity Report, you all got it mostly right. So, I look forward to seeing how many former members are reappointed.

One small (real) fact emerged during the General Election: 9% of all candidates had either an engineering or scientific background. But what is the proportion of those elected? Does this matter in the grander scheme of things, given that David Davis holds a joint degree in Molecular Science/Computer Science from Warwick? Just how many engineers are there at the Department for DCMS? How many engineers will there be on the new DDCMS Select Committee? More than or less than the proportion of scientists and engineers in the general UK national populations? [Note: traditionally both the rest of the EU and US have higher proportions of scientists and engineers in their elected bodies.]

My definition of “Being Digital” relates to the book of the same name, subtitled “The Road Map for Survival on the Information Superhighway” written by Nicholas Negroponte, way, way back in 1995. Along the way Nick founded the MIT Media Lab and Wired magazine. How many readers have read it or, indeed, recall what became known as the “Negroponte Switch”? This transformative book was written not just at the cusp of the modern Internet Era but more importantly on the boundary between the 1G Analogue and the 2G Digital transition: which began with simple text messaging. Alas, we are only now at the cusp of anywhere, anytime, Real Time Text (RTT) - consequences for The City and Real Time Financial Settlements or Cyber Security anyone? As a case study and harbinger of things to come this book is most informative, especially for Nick's original insights and more importantly with hindsight, his unintentional blind-sidedness. Thankfully, Nick has, indeed, survived and prospered.