Roddy Gow: Knowledge is power and Scotland should grab it

Facebook and LinkedIn have transformed not only the way we interact but, arguably, altered the political scene forever. Picture: Julie Bull

Facebook and LinkedIn have transformed not only the way we interact but, arguably, altered the political scene forever. Picture: Julie Bull

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The Information Revolution has two faces, writes Roddy Gow

We have been reflecting on how much we do or do not know of events in the 21st century, the means by which we receive information, sometimes to saturation point, and the distribution of that knowledge around the world.

Two-hundred years ago, news of the victory at Waterloo in 1815 took days to reach London. It was claimed that the use of racing pigeons by the Rothschilds resulted in an almost legendary tale – it was put about that receiving the news first, they were purported to have started to sell shares; the market panicked for a while in the belief that they had news of Wellington’s defeat.

As prices dropped they quietly began to buy back shares and exploited the premium that knowledge brought. As we watched the recent meltdown of Chinese equities and bonds and the attempt by market gurus to read the situation, we, too, might have wondered what the longterm consequences might be. In recent and upcoming events at the Asia Scotland Institute we have and will deal with this topic of knowledge, information and their dissemination.

INFORMATION INTEGRITY AND RESILIENCE

In late September, Edinburgh hosted a delegation from Vietnam, the ­second this year. Their focus was on Cyber Security, an area in which Scotland is widely acknowledged as a world leader.

After attending Dynamic Earth’s Entrepreneurial Scotland event, addressed by Gareth Williams of Sky-scanner and Nigel Eccles of Fan-Duel, the following day they visited Dell Secureworks, had meetings with key figures at Victoria Quay and ended at Edinburgh Napier University.

For the Vietnamese, the protection of their key data assets and ensuring that data’s resilience are high priorities. The exchange of information confirmed the importance to government and society of handling data effectively and protecting a country’s assets from hacking and cyber-attack.

INFORMATION SUPPRESSION

At the other end of the spectrum, there are parts of the world where preventing individuals and citizens from knowing what is going on is a conscious strategy of government. Last Thursday, 8 October, brought a detailed look at North Korea, the darkest region in the world, where information is suppressed and a totalitarian regime keeps its people ignorant and completely misinformed about world events.

Held in this cocoon they are largely unaware of world events and, worse still, fed a constant stream of misinformation. The highest profile defector from North Korea to visit Scotland shares his thoughts on that country, its roughly 25 million population (according to UN sources), its appalling record on human rights and the draconian measures adopted by the ruling regime. Jang Jin-Sung, the defector and our Speaker, is the author of the book Dear Leader

INFORMATION SHARING AND THE POWER OF SOCIAL NETWORKS

In the West we take open networks and an ease in communicating as fundamental rights. The growth of social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn have transformed not only the way we interact but, arguably, altered the political scene forever. The massive turnouts in both the Referendum last year and the general election have changed the electorate’s engagement with issues and encouraged politicians to use this new means of connecting with their potential supporters. There is no going back on this aspect of the information revolution as Elizabeth Linder, a Trustee of our Institute, and a panel from Facebook will explain. Its impact not just in Scotland but globally is dramatic and she will explore the effect this will have in Asia and other developing parts of the world; Facebook has more than 1.4 billion users. The panel will also consider the darker aspects of social networks for the spreading of propaganda as seen from the manipulations of Isis and explore what steps can be taken to control or counter this.What we know and how we know it in the Information Revolution throws up not just threats, but also opportunities for those experienced in this area. It looks as if Scotland may have a leading advantage and is about to learn more in the coming weeks.

Roddy Gow is chairman and founder of the Asia Scotland Institute

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