This post is the text of my spring 2022 column for Stage, Screen & Radio – the quarterly magazine for members of BECTU, the media and entertainment union and a part of Prospect. This issue of the magazine features the plans by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to privatise Channel 4 and abolish the BBC licence fee; and is well worth a read if you’re a member of the union.
My article, which looks at the remarks of Sachin Jogia, Ofcom’s then recently-appointed Chief Technology Officer, about the top trends in technology for 2022 reflects the published version with the addition of some links.
The start of any year is always a good time to plan and do some thinking about what’s lying ahead: in spring, the year remains new enough to allow us at least to think about what we might do to have some influence on the world that we see around us. (Summer, when this column was posted, just ahead of the August summer holiday season, is also not a bad time to get people thinking about the issues while lying on a beach – or, indeed, over a beer or two.)
At the end of January, Sachin Jogia, Ofcom’s Chief Technology Officer since early autumn 2021, looked at the major developments which he saw coming down the line.
His thoughts focused on broadcasting, the online world and our smartphone devices – very much the issues that will be of major concern to BECTU members. As always, however, it’s what he didn’t say that’s also of considerable interest.
But first, what did he see as the major technology issues affecting us?
– a range of developments combining recognised platforms and the online world in order to make TV and radio more personalised and capable of delivering a more individual experience. In TV, this includes ‘object-based media’ – the distribution of content via a series of component parts allowing greater personal choice and control
– more immersive use of alternative and virtual reality hardware achieved via lighter and more powerful headsets
– greater use of synthetic – i.e. fully automated – media by which films can be made without actors being present in a studio and requiring different skillsets for make-up artists, etc.
– regulatory technology which is able to automate compliance with laws such as the forthcoming Online Safety Bill
– continued roll-out of high-speed networks allowing our devices to make use of superior performance and improving take-up of virtual reality applications while on the move.
Development work on some of these things is already well underway; others, perhaps, look at first sight to be a little longer away from having a direct influence on our lives. And not all will be personally attractive to us.
Either way, these things will start to shape our lives and our work and we do therefore need to be aware of them.
For an ex-Amazon employee, who previously oversaw the development of voice-activated services, Jogia’s interview is light on references to Alexa, although there may very likely be a reason or two for that. Nevertheless, he has previously spoken, in an interview with Ofcom on taking the role, on the role of voice-activated software and I would expect that to be very likely both to guide and become the ‘human’ face of how we interact with the virtual reality world which he also anticipates.
Neither did he have much to say about the role of regulation in general. As Chief Technology Officer, that might be understandable in one context – but Ofcom’s purpose is to regulate and I would expect regulation to feature quite strongly in all its pronouncements.
That said, Jogia appears to be on board with the modern approach – to let the market decide and direct developments; and intervene only once something becomes a problem. Hence the arrival of the Online Safety Bill – although I’m not convinced that politicians are particularly better at this than specialist regulators.
Furthermore, I’m not at all sure that such a hands-off approach is one that is sustainable. Do we really want to hand control of the development of the virtual reality world to Facebook and Amazon (among others)?
Don’t we already know enough about their approach to data safety and our privacy to be sure that regulators should have a say in what they’re developing before it arrives, fully formed, on our devices?
Greater data literacy might be one thing – and Ofcom has some things to say about this, too, although I do wish they’d choose a new term for it – but data safety and privacy is, fundamentally, a regulatory issue and that, in 2022, is the main area on which I’d like to see technology develop.
Putting us, not the tech giants, in control of our platforms and devices.