The digital age has transformed nearly every facet of our lives: our homes are now brimming with connected devices and AI language models are transforming the way we live, work, and communicate.
In an ideal world, this revolution would transform the lives of all, but access to it hinges on the presence of next-gen resources, which are not at all distributed equally – resulting in the digital divide.
The digital divide is perhaps a catch-all term for the disparity in distribution, most commonly geographically but also economically, of technology in all its forms. We commonly approach the topic as it pertains to connectivity, swathes of dark spots, even across nations like the UK, betray uneven investment, and exacerbate pre-existing inequalities.
Even as connectivity infrastructure improves, it won’t at the pace that households increase their reliance, and therefore strain, on the networks. Research from Amdocs shows that connected devices in the home requiring a constant connection are booming. Households with more than nine connected devices have increased by 50% since 2021 . This is predicted to increase further, with the global IT market more than doubling by 2027 . New technologies which will require faster and more reliable connectivity than ever before, such as the metaverse, cloud gaming, and mixed reality, will inevitably widen the gap as access alone will not be enough. Instead, access with the speed, quality and security to run these next-gen applications will be required.
A growing divide
A tool with the potential to create a new, deeper digital disparity has recently emerged on an international scale: AI-based Large Language Models. Those including OpenAI’s ChatGPT, as well as text-to-image models like Dall-E and Stable Diffusion, are causing shockwaves across every facet of our lives. For example, ChatGPT became the fastest-growing consumer internet app ever after surpassing 100 million users just two months after launching earlier this year.
The WEF has predicted that AI will contribute to 83 million job cuts over the next five years, as McKinsey reports that Generative AI could automate between 60-70% of employee workloads. The savior will be that AI also opens new doors to us as employees and consumers, but only if people can access both the tools themselves and education on how to use them to their advantage.
We’ve unfortunately reached a crossroads between technological innovation and access to the tools that are being created. This has resulted in Amdocs’ finding that 61% of consumers believe the advent of new digital experiences like AI, AR, and the metaverse will deepen the digital divide. It’s therefore vital that Communication Service Providers (CSPs) see themselves as part of the “inclusion equation” and do what they can to facilitate quality access to communication enablers that are at the foundation of access.
Using the past to prepare for the future
Over the past few years, we’ve experienced an unprecedented and unexpected upheaval in how and why we need to be connected to the internet. Remote work and remote education were new for many, and we saw the consequences of this. The UK government has reported that some 559,000 students were living in households without internet access at the beginning of the pandemic, representing about 7% of the UK’s under-19 population. Insufficient access also played a part in a precipitous decline in academic achievement, with A-level students underperforming compared to their pre-pandemic counterparts. Furthermore, some 14% of apprentices could not complete their studies.