Technology and inequality

Our first set of major activities in our Digital Society theme focus on technology and inequality.
Project status
Ongoing
Programmes
Digital Society
Departments
Policy

Digital technology, inequality, and the role of government

Technology and inequality: project evidence hub

In early 2022, the Government Office for Science asked the British Academy to conduct a project on the topic of technology and inequality to improve our understanding of how government can play a key role in supporting access to, uptake of, and investment in technologies that can be critical to delivering broad public objectives, in a way that ensures inequalities do not become entrenched. The project builds on our recent COVID Decade report, which examined the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19, along with other activities such as our partnership with UCL Public Policy on Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work, our Childhood Policy Programme which has touched on the impact of digital technologies on children, and our Cohesive Societies programme which explored the relationship between online and offline communities within its theme of Identity and Belonging and the role of digital technologies within the Social Economy.

The project focuses on understanding the relationship between inequalities in access to digital technology and existing social inequalities. It examines how advances in digital technology can mitigate or exacerbate existing inequalities, as well as how existing inequalities pose challenges for access and skills related to digital technology. Insights from this project will thereby inform a review of policy options regarding effective deployment of digital technology to achieve public objectives in the context of complex inequalities.

The three high-level sub-questions guiding this project are as follows:

  1. In what ways does the landscape of digital technological provision currently shape social inequality in the UK, and vice versa?
  2. What mechanisms are available for government to support access, uptake, and investment in digital technology in a way that doesn’t entrench or exacerbate inequality?
  3. How can digital technologies be harnessed to improve policies that tackle inequality, their design, and the equitable delivery of public services?

To address the first question, we commissioned six projects at the start of the year, each of which examined a different aspect of the landscape of digital poverty in the UK. The full range of outputs produced by these projects can be found in our Technology and inequality evidence hub, alongside a summary report of the central themes, findings and policy lessons that emerge across the projects.

The project is led by a Working Group that includes Professor Helen Margetts FBA (Alan Turing Institute; Oxford Internet Institute), Professor David Hand FBA (Imperial College London), Professor James Nazroo FBA (University of Manchester), and Dr Carrie Heitmeyer (Government Office for Science).

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