Our tech review of 2023 

The technology trends of the past 12 months relevant to the public sector – AI, black mass, cyber-crime and solar 

We’ve covered all kinds of tech stories over the past year. A constant theme has been the ever more ingenious use of technology for all everything from rewilding farmland in North Yorkshire to making learning more immersive in Dorset. We’ve spoken to those producing tech solutions to keep children safe online, to record and share experiences of lockdown, or to recommend a good book. 

man sitting facing monitor

Photo by Simon Abrams

Some of the most extraordinary developments are happening in health care. Optical biosensors look set to detect and eliminate airborne pathogens in hospitals. The science of teddy bears is already improving outcomes for those living with dementia. A simple app is even helping to retain staff in social care. These stories are all the more extraordinary given limited budgets and the pressures under which work is done. 

Another big area is the electrification of transport, with a steady increase in the number of available charge points for electric vehicles (EVs) across the country. However, there have also been a number of setbacks. In September, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delayed plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. At the same time, increased sales of large, fuel-hungry SUVs undermine efforts to decarbonise transport. While gigafactories to produce EV batteries have been announced, there are concerns about supplies of the raw materials needed and stark warnings that Europe and the UK lag behind China in efforts to recover raw materials from used batteries – so-called ‘black mass’. The sense in all this is that the tech is available to push forward with cleaner, more efficient and cheaper means of fuelling transport, but there is a lack of political will. 

There are problems, too, in the generation of clean energy. Although the government finally eased restrictions on building onshore wind farms, more than 1,000 approved projects to generate energy from wind and solar can’t get started because of delays in connecting to the national grid. Ironically, there ever more interest from people installing solar panels – social housing, council buildings, businesses, and film studios have all benefitted. More than 800 solar panels were installed at Leicester City Council leisure centre and 5,000+ households in Cheshire registered for a solar group-buying scheme 

The government has been more enthusiastic about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and hosted an international summit in November, with the ‘Bletchley declaration’ agreed by 28 countries. We’ve reported on government funding for various AI initiatives – such as here and here and here. But doubts continue to be expressed about the dangers AI: leading authority Geoffrey Hinton even warned of an ‘existential risk’. 

Another area of immediate concern is the growing number of cases of sophisticated, organised cyber-crime, with organisations locked out of their systems. We’ve closely covered the ransomware attack on the British Library, as well as the attack on the Electoral Commission and Royal Mail, and showed how an attack on one IT firm affected whole chains of house sales. This month, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy produced a damning report on the failure to plan for and tackle this problem 

What’s needed to tackle these challenges in 2024 is investment in tech, across skills, systems and infrastructure. As ever, technology offers solutions… 


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