[PODCAST] What you should expect in 2024: A preview with Jess Wilson

What’s on the digital inclusion agenda for 2024? CEO of Good Things Foundation, Jessica Wilson, previews an exciting year ahead, an artificial intelligence (AI) project that's on the cards and a digitally inclusive future full of optimism.

By Good Things Foundation · 08/02/2024

Podcast transcript: Interview with CEO of Good Things Foundation, Jessica Wilson

Interviewer: So Jess, welcome to 2024.

Wilson: I think 2024 is a really exciting year! There’s a lot going on. 

Some of the exciting things that are happening in our world this year is that Be Connected has been refunded. So it’s continuing beyond June 2024. So we’ve got a lot to do to get ready for that and make it the best it can be.

But I suppose we’re also really looking to new technologies, looking to the future, and looking at things like AI and emerging technologies and [asking] what that actually means for the networks that we support – so the community organisations out there that are helping people to build their digital skills and confidence. 

I want to make sure that people understand what AI is to start with and then understand how it benefits them, and some of the risks and challenges that it might create as well. [We want to] really just see how we can build people’s understanding of AI literacy and what the intersection of that and digital inclusion is. 

There’ll be lots of big thinking and lots of talking to great people, our network and learners in the network as well to really understand that kind of emerging space better.

Interviewer: You mentioned AI. It is such a controversial term but it’s also such a positive term when it can be used for good. What do you see as the role of AI in the digital inclusion space? Or is this what Good Things Foundation is trying to explore?

Wilson: I absolutely see that there are benefits of AI in supporting accessibility and inclusion in the community. There’s definitely opportunities for people to use technology more easily: if you’re doing speech-to-text [or for] people with disabilities. I think there’s opportunities for smart technologies to really support people to be independent in the community and stay independent in the community.

There are huge risks though, as well, because there’s not a lot of guardrails at the moment around how AI’s used or what kind of principles we need. So there’s a big area of policy and regulation I think that the government is looking at the moment. 

But, ultimately I think that people don’t even know what [AI] means. Right? I’ve seen AI everywhere but people in communities, in small communities, that are building their digital skills and confidence for the first time just don’t even know what AI is, so they wouldn’t even ask about it. Right? 

So I think, for me, it’s really about making sure that people understand where it’s already used and being able to decide for themselves whether they want to try something or not, whether it’s a fun thing or it’s supporting them to understand things better. But also, it’s then that whole piece around media literacy and being able to critically analyse information that comes to you through the internet. AI is really going to change the way that that’s done. So we need to start [building] people’s understanding of [AI] now, so that people don’t get left behind even further. 

It’s big and there’s also quite a lot of challenges with it that we need to be aware of. Different groups of people have not been used to help build AI – information on people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities or people with disabilities. So we also need to make sure that people are included in the building of new technologies so that they’re built on the information that actually reflects the community and not just the people who built them.

Interviewer: Absolutely. AI is such a big challenge for the world, let alone for Australia, let alone for digitally excluded people.  

Wilson: Well look I think there’s some really positive steps happening to be honest.

The First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group was started last year. They release their first report at the end of the year, and they’re seeking feedback on that. I think there’s a commitment from the government to address some of those issues. For First Nations communities, I think that’s brilliant. 

I do think that there’s people starting to work together on what are the issues around affordability, because everybody’s talking about cost of living, right? The internet costs money, devices cost money. We do know from some of the reports released last year – some research we were part of, led by Michael Dezuanni on low income families – that people are making choices about whether they pay for food or they pay for the internet so their kids can go to school. 

I think there is a big issue around affordability that we need to crack to make sure that the internet is accessible to everyone, so they can participate in the community, whether that’s education or work or just civic participation.

Interviewer: You’ve mentioned two very hot media topics that are affecting everyone’s life in Australia. What role do you see the Good Things Foundation playing in changing people’s lives so that they are digitally included in the future?

Wilson: I think number one, we’re about to embark on a piece of work around AI literacy and really look at the intersection of [AI] and digital inclusion. I think that’s going to really help us to better understand the space, but also help the sector, the not-for-profit sector, the government and technology companies to understand what is that we need do to support people to go on the AI journey if they choose to? And where does that fit in the kind of digital literacy journey more broadly? So I think that piece of work will be really useful. 

We’re also working with a range of other organisations looking at different affordability options that we can recommend to government to see what they might be. There already is the Student Broadband Initiative, which is giving families that qualify for free internet until 2025. That’s fantastic, it’s a great initiative. But there needs to be a bit more work to make sure that people actually take it up. But then, what happens after that? So NBN and the Department of Communications are running that, and so we’re participating in that. 

We’re also working with our partners in Work Ventures and Good360Australia to look at what a device bank option might be. How might we get organisations to donate their used devices to be refurbished and then donated to people for free? And then how do we make that a sustainable model? So that’s definitely a piece of work we’re working on this year. Hopefully we’ll have something to test and share with the world later this year.

Interviewer: So what would be your final message to people working in the sector, people interested in digital inclusion and people interested in making Australia a better place? 

Wilson: What I would say is it’s going to take all of us, right? This is not something that any one organisation or any one person can solve. People who are wanting to build their skills and confidence or are not sure how to do that are going to trust the people around them, trust the people that they know already.

So actually, everybody has the opportunity to be a digital mentor, to help someone in their life to build their confidence, to help them access a device, to help them better understand how they get the cheapest plan they can. So I think it is going to take all of us to do that. 

I am a glass-half-full person. I’m incredibly optimistic. I feel like there is a bit of a momentum around digital inclusion at the moment, and I really hope that by bringing that along the new and emerging technology journey with AI, that we can continue to recognise that everyone deserves the right to be able to participate properly in the community.

Right now, that means having digital skills, confidence and the technology to do that. So, my message of hope is that we can do it but we can do it together. 

Interviewer: That’s wonderful. I feel inspired to make a small difference in the digital landscape in Australia. I hope everybody else does. So thank you so much for your time and best of luck with all those amazing projects. ​

Wilson: Thanks so much.