Survey backs Emerging Tech Charter for London

To inform the development of an Emerging Technology Charter for London, in December 2020 the Smart London Team held a public consultation on Talk London — our online discussion and consultation platform with nearly 60,000 users from across London.

The consultation asked for Londoners’ views on technological progress as a whole and then posed a series of questions about emerging technology and the role the GLA and other public and private bodies play in its development and deployment in the city. Respondents were also invited to participate in an online discussion with fellow Talk London members (read the discussion on new technology and the charter’s key principles).

The consultation was completed by 741 Londoners and adds to our growing body of insight and evidence relating to Londoners’ views on the use of technology and data in the capital.

This includes: polling on Londoners’ views of data; the Citizens’ Summit with NHS One London on sharing health data; the incorporation of the findings Metropolitan Police’s Ethics Panel on Live Facial Recognition; and TfL’s pilot of the use of Wifi data on the underground and subsequent deployment.

Summary of key findings

Views on technology: participants strongly leaned towards technology being a force for good rather than bad and overwhelmingly felt that the impact on individuals themselves over the next 20 years would largely be positive either in major or minor ways.

Answers to the question ‘generally do you consider technological progress to be a force for good, bad or neither?

Impact of technologies: Participants were broadly split on whether the pace of technology was “overwhelming” and agreed that it changes their lives for the better, and didn’t create more problems than it solved but agreed (82%) with the fairness-related statement “Technology does not have to meet the needs of all people, but it should not unfairly impact one group at the expense of the other.”

Should public services trial new technologies? 88% of participants supported trialling of new technologies by London’s public services. Public services we also more favoured to trial tech, with Transport for London or the NHS (net +81%) favoured over large tech companies (net+42%) and landowners (net +39%).

Online harms and digital exclusion were both raised in the discussion board — Londoners asked us to ensure that new technologies can’t be used to exploit people, and to consider the impacts of new technologies on those that aren’t in a position to take advantage of them. We have now included wording under Principle 2 that explicitly refers to the need to offer alternative access to services to mitigate the risk of people being pushed out or excluded from services due to the lack of an internet-enabled device or the skills to access the internet

Views of types of emerging technologies: Participants had very positive views about the future about environmental sensors for air quality, wildlife, and footfall (net +82%) and 5G (net +65%). Other forms of technologies were favoured by smaller margins AR/VR (net +18%) AI & machine learning (net +15%). ‘Computers making decisions with algorithms’ ranked lowest (net -4%), reflecting perhaps ongoing negative publicity. As some of these technologies form part of the same ‘stack’ this perhaps underlines the need for clearer explanations and use of plain English when describing how technology works and its potential impacts on communities.

Support for new measures: Participants strongly supported a public register for all sensors that collect data in London (89% very important or important) and an Emerging Tech Charter for the city.

Next steps

We are very grateful for the time taken by the participants to share their thoughts and suggestions. We have taken these, along with suggestions from our expert panel, and are pleased to share the latest version of the Charter.

We will continue to talk with innovators, public sector organisations and Londoners in shaping this Charter and more importantly, using it to guide and direct new technology for and by our city.

The full results of the survey can be found here.

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The survey was completed by 741 Londoners, 62% were male, 38% female, with the remainder identifying with another gender. The ethnicity of the survey participants was primarily white British and white other, with 80% white, and only 3% of mixed race, and 15% from black, Asian or other minority ethnic group. Over half of the participants were in some form of employment, 35% were non-working, and 3% unemployed. Thirty-three people participated in the online discussion and the make-up was predominantly men and those from a white background.

It is important to note that this sample is not representative of the over-16 population of London. And we are not inferring that the results of the survey represent the view of all Londoners. We will continue to consult with Londoners as we develop the Emerging Technology Charter and aim to diversify those we speak to. Nevertheless, the survey results do provide some insight into attitudes to technology amongst Londoners.

@MayorofLondon CDO & Smart London Board putting data & technology at the heart of making London an even better place to live, work and visit