We are living in an increasingly digital world. Digital is no longer a choice, it’s a part of our day to day lives. The smartphone that lives in almost every pocket, the social media networks that allow us to communicate, share, connect and promote. Technology in the home, school, workplace and our further and higher education establishments has developed at a rate beyond our expectations.
The most visible acceleration has come in the form of voice-controlled technologies. Siri and Alexa now allow us to shop, communicate, discover, write, view and listen to content. The remote control with its myriad of buttons is now redundant. Ask and thou shalt receive the latest episode of your favourite TV show. But, and it’s a big BUT: it only works if you ask in a language the technology understands. Ask to see the latest episode of “Pobol y Cwm”, or hear “Anfonaf Angel” by Rhys Meirion or even try to phone someone with a Welsh name and you’re in for a huge disappointment. I’ve even had to store my wife’s name as Beth-ann on my iPhone for the benefit of Siri.
But it’s not just language interfaces that are a challenge for the Welsh language. As AI (Artificial Intelligence) technologies develop, the need for machines to have an ability to understand more languages becomes increasingly important.
With every challenge comes an opportunity. The world is multilingual. Bilingualism is the norm this side of Offa’s Dyke and beyond the English Channel. Whatever your view or standpoint on Brexit, there is a real opportunity to develop Wales as the centre for the internationalisation of content (the Netherlands is the current European hub).
Many agree that there is a need to develop good and positive relationships with the giants of the digital world, (the Googles, Apples and Facebooks). Expecting them to respond positively towards Welsh whilst a number of other languages, who have a higher number of users and the lobbying strength of sovereign legislatures, sit ahead of us in the queue is a challenge in itself. So, what is the added value? What is the USP that the Welsh language and Wales can offer?
The answers do not sit with one individual, it is vital that individuals, institutions, bodies and businesses come together and co-operate. At the recent Hacio’r Iaith unconference I proposed the need to create a think tank that can discuss all things digital in relation to the Welsh language and bilingualism. The think tank will help to form policy, lead discussions around the challenges and opportunities that exist today and in the future. It will offer a positive voice for the Welsh language in a digital context and help develop a commercial cluster of businesses active in the sector.
This is, therefore, the first step. I’m extending an open invitation in order to help facilitate the creation of the new think tank, one that has a constitution and the capacity to create a digital strategy for the Welsh language.
If you have an interest as an individual, institution, body or business, please complete the online form below. A number of you have already expressed an interest, with some offering practical assistance. So, whatever your field of expertise, do express your interest by completing the form. We will then arrange a small number of meetings across Wales before launching officially.