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Manx BHAGs and the importance of looking ahead

In this blog post – I look back at the industrial revolution, its impact on horses – and what the Isle of Man could learn from the UK’s Industrial Strategy. I also question whether the Isle of Man needs a bigger set of BHAGS.

In 1800’s Europe, there were around 11 people for every horse. With the industrial revolution, the horse population was decimated – with machines taking centre stage.

The diminishing need for horses didn’t just impact the horses themselves, but also the farriers, blacksmiths, stables and other horse-dependants that existed in the value chain. The marginal value of a horse’s work became less than the upkeep and feeding of the horse. The result? The horse was no longer economically viable.

Turning our attention to modern industry, one could say that Robotics and Automation are the new [Steam Engine / Motor vehicle / Railway] – and they are collectively going to disrupt the proverbial horse.

The importance of looking ahead

The advent of this technology is set to challenge the viability of some jobs and professions – but –  will lead to entirely new roles (a retraining and upskilling opportunity).

These ‘doom-mongering’ forecasts cannot be taken literally,  nor can they be ignored – the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

The Economist (6th July 2019) looks at some imagined scenarios, and while the ‘dire forecasts’ do not come to pass, they forecast change. In its article ‘A different dystopia’:

‘Countries with relatively slow aging and lots of robots did best. But those that underinvested in automation, or shut themselves off from the world, were hard hit’

I agree with the sentiment.

Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS)


Artificial Intelligence, Collaborative-Robots, and Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) are commonplace in industries such as manufacturing, agriculture and food processing.

At the current time, we are waiting to see the widespread adoption of these technologies in the Isle of Man, and the Manx Government is yet to develop any policies that recognise the emergence of these trends.

When you look at the numbers:

  • The RAS market is forecast to grow at a rate of 40% per year – with non-industrial uses making up 90% of the market.
  • One estimate forecasts that AI could add £230BN to the UK economy by 2030.

With this extraordinary projected growth:

  • Is it time that all Governments (including the Isle of Man) started to create policies conscious of these trends?
  • Should Governments start to tweak existing policies that otherwise run the risk of becoming obsolete or be overtaken by emergent trends?
  • Does Education need to pivot towards RAS, AI and Industry 4.0 – or wait until it is here? Digital Skills, Reskilling, Upskilling are critical features of the UK strategy.

UK Industrial Strategy

The UK Industrial Strategy (PDF)

The UK is taking the horse by the bit from a policy standpoint. With 2.6m employed in manufacturing – any change or threat to this core sector cannot be ignored. The UK Industrial Strategy (“Building a Britain fit for the future”) describes four Grand Challenges that are designed to position the UK as future leaders. You can read more about the Grand Challenges here.

The Vision comes before the strategy, herein is their Vision:

  • The World’s most innovative economy.
  • Good jobs and greater earning power for all.
  • A major upgrade to the UK’s infrastructure.
  • The best place to start and grow a business.
  • Prosperous communities across the UK.

The UK GDP could be 10% higher in 2030 as a result of AI

Turning our attention to the Industrial Strategy, the first set of challenges include:

  1. Artificial Intelligence and Data. We will put the UK at the forefront of the artificial intelligence and data revolution.
  2. Ageing Society. We will harness the power of innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society.
  3. Clean Growth. We will maximise the advantages for the UK industry from the global shift to clean growth.
  4. Future of Mobility. We will become a world leader in the way people, goods and services move.

To tackle each of these challenges, the UK Government has what it calls Missions – which bring together government, business and other organisations to develop and implement solutions.  Chris Skidmore MP has announced the Robotics Growth Partnership – that recognises the unabating advancement Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS). Another nod to the future, off the back of a Smart Parking Data Standardisation announcement.

The Isle of Man

We can see that countries all over the world are beginning to adapt; developing forward-thinking policies, changing their approach to education, and identifying the inevitable challenges and opportunities that AI/Robotics/Automation will offer. On paper – the Isle of Man should be far more nimble, agile and adaptive to change.

At a time when the news is focused on horse-trams, roadworks, listed buildings and land grabscould we be doing more?

Some discussion points:

  • What BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) should the Island have?
  • Could the Island capitalise on this inevitable paradigm-shift? One for the Digital Agency or COMIN?
  • What can we do in the Isle of Man to be ahead of the trend? Or;
  • Do we sit behind, observing and learning? Or;
  • Should we remain at the back of the queue, embrace some form of economic antiquity, introduce a listed-industry register, and continue arguing about horse trams?

As a business – we follow the needs of our customers, hence our growing experience with Internet of Things, Sensors and Software Automation. We have already begun working with firms who specialise in Robotics, Cobots and Automation – the technology is here… today.

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Joe Hughes is the CEO of Manx Technology Group. Joe has a background in software development, information security, networks, datacentres and enterprise IT.
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