Al, ML and data

Central to any organisation, government or business today is timely, reliable and contextualised data, and the concept and usage of big data have become particularly widespread across many sectors. Although the description of big data is evolving, the understanding that it is made up of what Douglas (Douglas, 2001) describes as volume, velocity and variety is central. Added to that, Kitchin and McArdle (Kitchin & McArdle, 2016) describe characteristics of big data such as resolution, extensionality, relationality, indexicality and scalability.

Central to this use of big data are the tools of Al and ML. Data in and of itself has no value, it is only in the usage, contextualisation and application that data can impart value through insights into the dynamics of social, economic, cultural and natural systems. The volume of data produced has meant that Al and ML are central to how meaning can be derived though analytics.

For SIDS, data analytics can play a central role not only in the all-important Blue Economy, such as understanding changes in ocean ecosystems, fish stocks and trade flows, tourist spend, destination marketing and product development, but also in evidencing the impacts, opportunities and barriers of the knowledge economy. Key to all this however, and an issue for the use of Al and ML in data analytics, are the quality and contemporality of the data used to update and sharpen the ML algorithms and hence the quality and accuracy of the analytical process.

Data is a particular issue for the creative and cultural industries worldwide per se, and not just in relation to Al and ML applications. CCI data is highly variable in quality, dispersed across organisations and often outdated. This absence of data is particularly apparent in developing regions as a whole and notably in SIDS. Data for world trade in creative products and sendees is difficult to obtain because many developing countries do not track and report on the creative and cultural industries as an important sector. Assumptions and estimates therefore have to be made (UNCTAD, 2018).

There is an urgent need therefore for greater collaborative research, data aggregation and data analytics across all CCI sectors, with a particular emphasis on the developing world. Data is seen, quite rightly, as the crucial element of policy, strategic and commercial decision-making. Yet the assumption that we just need data to make the right decisions is flawed. Data only becomes useful through its interpretation, and interpretation is governed by culture - in its widest sense. The amount of data is also increasing exponentially, making it harder and harder to make decisions based on clear understandings and interpretations.

Decision-making becomes vastly more difficult as you increase the amount of information surrounding that decision, and the number of ways to get something wrong, certainly in strategy, decision-making and policy implementation, always significantly outnumbers the number of ways to get it right. The impact of data on the development of sustainable economies in SIDS, particularly those essential knowledge-based sectors, will rely on the wider research and development community to put in place the mechanisms and understanding to draw pertinent analyses from the rapidly expanding mass of data.

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies

Despite its popular perception, blockchain is far more than just a tool for cryptocurrency transactions. It is a new global infrastructure that can transform commercial, societal and governmental processes and address many key challenges. For SIDS, the adoption of blockchain technologies can work in a number of ways.

Many SIDS have strong cultural heritage assets, both tangible and intangible, and the ability to monetise this, not just as a tourist attraction but as a valuable international goods export sector, can be significant. For example, allowing cultural and creative designer-makers to connect with clients, track and monetise their products more successfully.

Blockchain enables these designer-makers to build a comprehensive historical record of their goods that creates a more secure and efficient supply chain management process. This ability to track the creation, export, distribution and purchase of an individual cultural asset allows consumers to trust the source and integrity of any particular asset (Yaga et al., 2018). It can also impact the vital tourist sector, enabling Fintech innovations such as the blockchain platform in

Aruba that allows local companies to connect directly with tourists and reclaim loss revenues from the monopoly of foreign agencies (Travers, 2017).

The Caribbean Tourism Organisation is also promoting crypto-payment to boost the local and regional tourist industry (Callahan, 2018). The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) has been working on a regional cryptocurrency, a digital version of the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (ECD), called the DXCD. The original ECD is the legal tender of eight regional island countries: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kits and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The ECCB has served as the monetary authority of these islands since 1983 and is a successful example of fiscal cooperation in the region. It is targeting 2025 as a date for seeing a 50% reduction in the use of cash, an 80% reduction in the use of cheques and a growth of between 40% and 60% in the use of credit cards, debit cards and electronic payment systems (ECCB, 2017).

The challenges of monetary union across small island states though is clear, with physical currency transfer an obvious barrier whilst, despite the ECCB governance, banking transfer and facilities are not as unified or fluidly implemented as they could be. The case for the digital currency then becomes compelling in this instance. The removal of frictions and inefficiencies it is hoped will help drive economic growth in the recovery from Covid-19.

As is common in many SIDS regions with dispersed populations, especially outside capital cities, a large proportion of the population are underbanked, often put off by the sometimes large fees to transfer monies between islands. Such digital currencies then offer the ability for low-cost, fast and flexible transfer of funds via smartphone, not just between private individuals, but in B2B and B2C transactions. This secure digital transfer of funds, coupled with the ability of blockchain to track and verify creative and cultural goods from local designer-makers could see a significant growth in creative micro-business start-ups and exports.

Immersive technologies

Much is talked about the revolution that virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) will have on the creative and entertainment industries. The ability to break out of the two-dimensional storytelling paradigm that we’ve had for more than 100 years opens up some ground-breaking possibilities for content creators across economic sectors (Corallo et al., 2019).

However, as highlighted in the other chapters of this book, the discussion around technology implementation and the resultant changing business models of distribution and monetisation remain stubbornly siloed. The central pillar of the impact of immersive technologies on the creative and cultural sector is their combination and collaboration with other sectors.

We see creative content producers and technology specialists developing innovative products and applications in sectors such as architecture, healthcare, tourism and construction. Whilst immersive technology will impact the entertainment industries, in particular the gaming industry, it is how these technologies drive cross-sector collaborations that is most exciting.

For instance, animators and visual effects artists are working with immersive technology companies to create virtual new building walk-throughs for clients, using the skills of texture mapping and lighting to produce highly lifelike and therefore more instructive models for clients (Paes et al., 2017). In similar ways, 3D artists are working with digital health companies and national organisations to enable the visualisation of virtual operations as part of training and diagnostic procedures. All of these examples see the creative sector collaborating, innovating and becoming an essential part of the economic fabric of nations and regions.

Creative immersive content and tourism

With tourism playing such a significant role in the economic fabric of many SIDS, the growth of creative content, delivered through augmented, merged and virtual realities, presents a significant opportunity to enhance visitor experiences, engage new audiences in tourist destinations and increase the marketing reach and penetration of place-specific attractions. Mura et al. suggest that virtual digital worlds are becoming central to the success of the tourism industry (Mura et al., 2017).

There have already been numerous uses of AR technology to enhance visitor experiences by overlaying educational or experiential content onto real scenes (Jung et al., 2016) and used particularly in heritage tourism, where immersive technology applications have engaged with places, artefacts and events.

An example of this is the 5G Smart Tourism project in the UK city of Bath that successfully completed the first public trial of a smartphone AR application at the historic Roman Baths in December 2018. Over 100 visitors experienced reconstructions of the Baths at key moments in history on a mobile AR app. High-quality 360-degree video was streamed over the project’s network, which included the first UK deployment of a 60 GHz mesh network. The project partnered with Oscar-winning animation company Aardman to model the historical aspects of the Baths for visitors (Wilson. 2019).

These technologies can have a significant impact on destination marketing, allowing tourist boards and resort owners to engage with potential clients on a far deeper and more personal way. The impacts on competition for tourism revenue look only set to increase in the post-Covid-19 recovery, thereby increasing the need for countries and resorts to find any competitive advantage they can and to market directly and impactfully to potential clients.

The encouragement of domestic tourism, due to the ongoing restrictions to outward travel, will largely not be applicable to SIDS regions, given the often small domestic market and low- to middle-income nature of many of the countries (UN ESCAR 2020).

So for SIDS, the promise of a gradual return of foreign exchange revenue as tourism recovers must be seen in the light of growing competition for that revenue. It will necessitate new technologies in destination marketing, along with technology-enhanced experiences in these locations, hotels and resorts and the lessons of how major urban tourist destinations have used the ’smart city' concept could hold some valuable lessons for SIDS regions.

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