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Predicting emerging technologies – how did we do in 2023?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Defra technology, Digital transformation, Robotics automation, Software tools

A robot sitting in a field

Jan Murdoch reflects on what the Defra Technology Innovation team got right with their 2023 Emerging Technology radar report, and the lessons they can take as they think about the next iteration.

Every year our Technology Innovation team produces an ‘Emerging Technology’ radar. We do this in partnership with a broad range of internal and external stakeholders to gather a wide range of opinions.

The purpose of us producing our annual radar is to help us visualise what we think about which emerging technologies are most likely to be of most use to the Defra group - with a focus on the specific business challenges and opportunities we have identified from our horizon scanning.

Leveraging our forecasts, we execute Proof of Concepts throughout the year, collaborating with business areas right across the Defra group of organisations. This approach allows us and business colleagues to conduct experiments aimed at addressing real business issues.

It also enables us to evaluate the technology and make informed decisions as to whether investment is going to enhance the way in which Defra group delivers its services to end users.

AI rules the roost, or does it?

So how did we do last time? We called the 2023 report “The Age of AI”, which tells you a lot about what we were thinking about at that time. Many technologies on the radar were linked to AI, including Advanced Computer Vision and Explainable AI and Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI).

We explored GenAI technology initially as a tool to create new and interesting imagery. We utilised the Midjourney tool to create all the imagery in our 2023 emerging technology radar report.

However, GenAI applications, exemplified by ChatGPT and BART, surpassed global expectations in 2023, marking a significant surge in adoption and investigation by government organisations for an entire range of use cases to allow humans to focus on design and specification instead of low-level administrative tasks.

Unsurprisingly, Generative AI has been the focus of much of our work this year. The team has rapidly explored many different uses for the technology, including:

  • a successful proof of concept for supporting civil servants to provide faster answers to complex questions.
  • consulting with colleagues on new tools, such as Microsoft Co-Pilot.
  • presenting and publishing an opinion paper on AI.
  • supporting the establishment of an internal AI community of interest.

Our early work on Generative AI has also allowed us to share our learnings with wider government and support other government departments in their adoption of AI tooling.

Not the only show in town though

Aside from AI, we predicted virtual reality (VR) had some way to go before being adopted more generally, with headset sizes being one of the issues.

We said that Augmented Reality would lead the way for immersive experiences, and we were right. A Google Vision VR headset has recently been launched, with AR a key element of the product.

This is also the case for the Meta Quest 3 headsets. We see this “pass through” feature becoming more advanced in the years to come, with better cameras allowing the wearer to be in their “real” environment with complementary digital information overlaid.

We’ve now begun the process of building the new 2024 radar for Defra group, picking those technologies that will have most benefit to our organisation. We’re a large and diverse organisation with many challenges and opportunities.

So do keep checking back here to see what we have to say about what technologies we believe will have the most impact in the months ahead.

Jan Murdoch is a member of Defra’s Technology Innovation Team. Each year the team produces an annual technology radar which highlights the potential influence of emerging technologies on the challenges and opportunities faced by Defra group or organisations.

Do you have ideas for any emerging technologies that the team should be exploring? Why not drop the team a line, or leave a comment on this blog.

Check out our LinkedIn page to see some of the recent posts and videos from the Technology Innovation Team. While you’re there, why not give us a follow.

If you’re interested in a career in Defra Digital Data and Technology, check out our website for the latest jobs.


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1 comment

  1. Comment by tony riggs posted on

    Great to look back and actually see how things turned out for 2023/24! Definitely been phenomenal movement on AI, especially Gen-AI.

    Looking forward to the next (24/25) Defra Emerging Digital Technologies Radar (I obviously know it's being worked on right now).


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