Headlines: September 26th, 2000

A research centre is to be created to investigate the impact of new technology on society and spearhead the government’s drive to end the digital divide. The target to put all local and central government services on line by 2005 holds benefits for those who can make use of them, but it will create inequality for others.The centre, which will be funded by the Department for Education and Employment, will bring together individuals to form an expert body in the development, review and use of Information Communications Technology research nationally and internationally. It will carry out a programme of research, review and analysis designed to build up a comprehensive database of knowledge.

As in the Industrial Revolution, which was the last time technology effected such rapid changes in society, new initiatives and services emerge daily. The speed of development can be judged by a typical day’s announcements of new facilities. The Next Level Systems Ltd are developing an on line parking fine payment scheme for Tynedale Council. Epic Group, having provided a system for purchase of fishing licences for the dotcom start-up company Impower, are now moving to on line learning and other transactional websites. First Software has delivered a system, Repairs Direct, to Spelthorne Housing Association for tenants to order housing repairs on line. For some motorists, anglers and social housing tenants, the digital gap is already widening.

The new research centre has the task of developing a better understanding of the technological revolution. From the knowledge database it will be possible to plot developments and assess their impact so that policy makers in public services can be better informed.