Lucía Velasco currently runs the Spanish National Observatory for Tech and Society (ONTSI), the public space to understand the impact of technology on society. She’s an Economist specialized in public policies and has vast experience in the public sector, private corporate sector, and NGOs.
As an overview and from your perspective, what's the current state regarding the digital transformation in Spain?
Spain is in a perfect spot to run this digital transformation race. We have the digital agenda until 2025 and a European recovery plan of which 30% is dedicated to this digital ambitions as a country. We have somehow recovered the time we’ve lost this past decade without a plan.
However, we have some critical challenges that we need to tackle right away, such as digital skills. We have a third of the population without basic digital skills. We cannot afford this. The talent market is international, and we need to be there. We also lack women in the technology sector and technology specialists; we need to make sure that we are part of this design of the future working environment. And lastly, we need to focus on creating the employment of the future, the technology-related work in which we are pretty short, less than a 4%.
What would you say is the biggest challenge to tackle right now regarding the impact of technology on individuals and society?
The most critical challenge that we need to face is, in fact, understanding the impact of technology on society. And for that, we need data. Data is the crucial element to comprehend this transition and this revolution that we are in and make sure that we can design an unbiased transition. We need a fair evolution in this digital environment.
There is an expression that institutions, people, and organisations have used a lot lately: “leaving no one behind”. How do minorities fit in this digitalisation process, and how do women fit in it?
Minorities need to be at the heart of this change that we are living because we cannot design a future that excludes people. We need to be very careful and ensure that we do not develop technologies that ban parts of the population. We need to bring to the table, listen, and make sure that technology works for minorities. Therefore, we need to, at the same time, make sure that we have the data regarding these groups.
On the women side, I believe this is the most relevant aspect of the data revolution because we cannot design a future where half of the population is not involved. We have to ensure that women study, work and communicate the relevance of this digital future.
In fact, what would you say to these young women that want to enter these digital and technology fields?
I would tell them that the future needs them; they need to be a part of it; we need your vision here.
Do you think that digital rights and equality need to be regulated?
As any other, right. In the same way that we have our fundamental human rights in all sorts of regulations, charters, and international jurisdiction, we need to make sure that we have the same rights that we have in the analogical world, in the digital one. We also have to understand the new needs in this new reality. Spain is leading this debate of humanism and technology. We have released a charter of digital rights, which we hope will be accepted in the European Union as a framework.
Your book ¿Te va a sustituir un algoritmo? (Is an algorithm going to take your place?) makes us reflect on one of those challenges that we will need to face in the future: the digital revolution in the workspace. Eighty-five million jobs will change by only 2025. What's the role of public administrations on this matter, on this revolution of the digital workspace?
The role of the public sector is critical to understanding the automation or the future of work because this is something that’s going to happen. And we need to design how we make this transition happen for the people. It’s, again, the exact reflection as before; we need to make sure this works for everybody. And to do that, the public sector has a pivotal role because we need to design how we re-skill citizens, how we make sure that the individuals can transition from one job to the other and how we support those who probably won’t be able to make it. That way, those people won’t be left behind.
Do you think an equitable digital transition is possible amidst all these challenges we need to meet?
There’s no other option. We need to make it equitable. We need to make it fair. We need to make it just; we need to make it work.
Last question and returning to Lucía Velasco, what is the next step for you? What policy would you like to witness coming through?
The following steps will probably entail gathering the data to understand what’s happening to the Spanish people regarding technology and digitalisation. This way, we will reduce the gaps we see and the ones we don’t see yet.