A town in Shropshire which is often accredited with starting off global warming could lead the fourth industrial revolution and help to tackle the climate change crisis, one of the UK’s top tech minds has claimed.
Ironbridge Gorge is widely seen as the birthplace of the industrial revolution, with iron smelting technology, extensive coal and tar mining, tile and china manufacture and the world’s first cast-iron bridge born in the area.
And according to Tim Luft, a Government technology dealmaker for the Department of International Trade, it can lead the world into the new digital industrial revolution just as it did with the first industrial revolution.
Learning from innovation
“If you go back to Ironbridge during the first industrial revolution, people were innovating and experimenting with new materials and creating new products that they didn’t really know what they would be used for at the time,” says Tim, who is also the founder owner of Telford’s VR Simulation Systems and the digital champion for the Telford Business Forum.
“There was no knowledge of smelting iron so that you could build a bridge or a tower – they were just experimenting.
“I think we can learn from that innovation here today. If you look at changing technology as a raw material as opposed to what was available in the days of the first industrial revolution, then the ability to actually create new products that don’t actually exist yet is really where there is a crossover.”
Festival of Imagination
Tim will be bringing a futuristic feel to the Festival of Imagination, a two-week celebration of the Ironbridge Gorge’s past, present and future which runs for two weeks this September.
The festival, organised by Telford & Wrekin Council, with funding from Arts Council England’s Cultural Destinations Tourism Fund runs between September 14-29.
It aims to engage, inspire and educate people about the Ironbridge Gorge, not only looking at its history and impact on the world, but looking at what is there now and how the area can affect change in the future.
Artificial intelligence and technology
“Fifteen of the top 20 jobs in tech don’t exist yet for children when they leave school because they don’t know what they are going to be – technology is moving forward that quick,” says Tim.
“If you look at the whole growth of artificial intelligence and technology around augmented reality, virtual reality and simulation then there are massive opportunities to come up with products.
“It’s only in the last 10 years or so that we have seen this platform where innovators are coming in with businesses which are becoming billion pound companies based on ideas, not from raw materials.
“It’s people saying ‘let’s do something different and disrupt the technology that is there to try something new’. That is the link back to the past – suddenly people are being more creative and being more disruptive.
“You can argue that the US Silicon Valley started at lot of this, but where there is an opportunity for Ironbridge is for it to say ‘could we create an environment and encourage that creativity with our young people?’.”
Freedom of young minds
Education through events like Festival of Imagination as well as school is key, believes Tim, who says the freedom of young minds and a fearlessness to experiment and explore is key to the Ironbridge Gorge being able to lead this change.
“It has to start with children and in schools. This level of imagination and creativity comes when you have no risk, no barriers and can start experimenting with ideas. It would be really great to see Ironbridge leading that,” said Tim.
“Ironbridge was a hotbed of smelting metal, noise and moving goods around, there was need for these goods to be exported around the world and that created a buzz. There was a supply chain and industry grew all around it, and the whole of this area and the Black Country grew – and we ought to be looking at where technology can offer that supply chain again.
“Technology is not just about building code or an algorithm for a piece of AI, you need expertise around that to make it work and that fascinates me.
“These are going to be really innovative jobs, which we don’t even know what they are going to be yet. But we are going to need to look at how we use technology to solve big societal problems.
“It can be argued that Ironbridge created global warming, well can we turn that on its head an say that Ironbridge can solve global warming?
“Could we put the challenge out that we want Ironbridge to be the creative part of the world to help tackle big issues like climate change and plastics, using technology for good. It would be a great opportunity.”