In digital transformation, the task of scientists is to ensure the development of technology for the public good
Among the topics of the 5th World Congress of Latvian Scientists "Science for Latvia" is digital transformation. In daily life, it is more commonly associated with the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, and therefore we rarely contemplate the link between digital transformation and science. However, science plays a vital role in both in the development of this field and in making sure that is meaningfully used.
"Digitalization is no longer the exclusive domain of ICT. It is now a horizontal discipline used by scientists in all fields. And scientists are tasked with making sure that we can all can use these digital technologies as efficiently as possible in various fields," says Jānis Grabis, one of the curators of the digitization direction at the 5th World Congress of Latvian Scientists and Head of the Department of Management Information at the Institute of Information Technology at the RTU. "Technologies develop over a number of years. For example, ChatGPT, a chatbot that allows you to write lectures and generate program code has lately become popular. Parallel to this, Stack Overflow is an extremely popular portal for programmers on which you can exchange knowledge. It banned the publication of fragments of code generated by the tool shortly after ChatGPT became popular. This is because they are often flawed and "code generators" themselves are unaware of this. It is also the task of scientists to ensure that technologies are transparent, sustainable and function for the benefit of society."
More precisely, Jānis Grabis asserts that the role of science in digitalization development entails:
– identifying and developing transparent and sustainable digitalization solutions;
– identifying and evaluating digitalization limits and risks;
– clarification of digitalization processes;
– development of inter-disciplinary studies and applications.
With these assertions in this made, the organizing team of the 5th World Congress of Latvian Scientists "Science for Latvia" has elected to examine three missions in the digitalization sector. Each mission is comprised of a broad range of subjects. However, in this article we have tried to highlight the directions that best characterize the development of Latvian science in each.
Mission – digital globalization – EDUCATION
Modern education is often publicly discussed in the regard to the future, but many innovations are already under development. Moreover, some innovations can definitely be commercialized and offered to educational institutions in other countries. The University of Latvia (UL) and in particular the Dean of the Faculty of Education, Psychology and Art, Professor Linda Daniela, have a great merit in the digitization of Latvian education. Her academic and research onus is on making education and educational technology more inclusive. Linda Daniel has published more than 90 academic papers. In 2022, she was awarded the European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities.
Under Professor Daniela's leadership, UL has created several educational technology laboratories, including a virtual reality laboratory, a robotics laboratory, a 3D prototyping laboratory, and a laboratory for the development of digital teaching materials. "Interest among students is growing all the time, but we should point out that it is a myth that they know everything. They don't. Students know how to connect to social media apps, but they mostly don't know how to create teaching material or where to find an appropriate platform for this purpose. Of course, some enthusiasts do know. However, the fact that they are trying and taking action pleases me," says the professor, summing up the situation. "Faculty members play a vital role in the process, and we teach faculty members too. The university has courses on how to perform teaching work in the digital environment. 90% of our lecturers teach lecturers from other faculties. And we really have done a lot of work at faculty level to ensure that is the case. At times, it has been quite hard – people did not understand our intentions at first. But now time has passed, and nobody doubts anymore that it was right course of action. Instead, there is satisfaction."
However, possibilities to utilize technology in educational institutions are often thwarted by a shortage of funding: "Various solutions are created on platforms. The simplest are the free versions. However, if you want something more serious, you are obliged to buy these additional options. And then the question arises regarding whether educational institutions buy anything extra. The digital environment requires funding because we also require evaluation in the learning process. And evaluation is usually included in the most complex technological solutions," explains the professor. Moreover, she notes that educational institutions and educators differ in their understanding of the need for technology. While some are prepared to "rap students on the fingers" to dissuade them from spending so much time on their devices, others appreciate that there is a difference between consuming social media and utilizing simulations to solve certain tasks. Furthermore, the professor stresses that technological solutions make it possible to solve some of the problems that are currently being widely debated including the need to reduce teachers' workloads, and even to replace some teaching staff in certain subjects. However, this requires a decision at national level and teachers have to collaborate with programmers who could then create these materials.
Here is some information about just a few on the projects that have been commenced and are under development at UL:
– mathematics teaching for pupils with the help of robotics, https://blwithrobotics.eu/;
– materials in five teaching modules to encourage learning of educational robotics and algorithmic thinking during pre-school and primary school (for 3-7 year old kids), also applicable to the remote learning process, https://www.earlyeu.org/lv/home-latviesu/
– use of virtual and augmented reality in the higher education process, https://www.vr-in-he.eu/;
– use of comics, literature and game elements in teaching about climate changes, http://climatopia.eu/.
In higher education – even in as specific a realm as medical training – a great deal takes place digitally. Riga Stradiņš University's Medical Education and Technology Center is not only the only simulation center in Latvia, but also and the biggest in the Baltics, where there is adequate infrastructure and equipment under one roof to ensure the learning and mastery of skills, as well as the implementation of simulation programs in various healthcare sectors. At present, students and medical care professionals have access to a simulated operating room, a room in which to learn surgical skills, a room for learning laparoscopic skills, as well as a microsurgery and patient preparation room. According to the person who came up with the idea of the operation block, Chairman of the RSU Senate and the Head of the Surgery Department at Pauls Stradiņš Clinical University Hospital, Professor Jānis Gardovskis, such a block is an great addition to the university's strategic transition towards simulation technology, which makes it possible to prevent errors when working with real patients, "At the RSU, consideration has been given to the development of the skills and aptitudes of budding healthcare professionals at all levels – in addition to modern theoretical training, preclinical and clinical training are conducted, while nascent and existing specialists hone their professionalism while working with living tissue at the Doctors' Safe Train Center."
According to the Head of the Center, Ieva Šlēziņa, in addition to working with simulations and in the virtual environment, students can also use technology in other ways including by printing bones on a 3D printer.
Mission – digitalization and people – CULTURE
At this year's congress, the organizers particularly want to highlight the opportunities and challenges generated by digitalization in the context of the development of Latvian society and culture. Here, accomplishments are local, but digital solutions provide an opportunity to present yourself and your culture to a broader audience all over the world. One of the most significant initiatives is Digitalhumanities.lv. This is an initiative devised by the University of Latvia's (UL) Institute of Literature, Folklore and Art, the Institute of Mathematics and Computer Science's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the National Library of Latvia. The goal of the initiative is to facilitate the development of digital humanities in Latvia, to provide information about research and initiatives, and to foster cooperation nationally and internationally.
The website Digitalhumanities.lv serves as an information resource for digital humanities in Latvia, where one can find information about various activities carried out by means of inter-institutional cooperation. For example, in the “Resource Library” you can find a wide range of different digital open access resources and tools, for example, a digital platform for deciphering manuscripts found in the Latvian folklore repository. Manuscripts are available in 11 languages. Also available, for example, is the digital repository of audiovisual documents of the National Archive of Latvia's Latvian State Archive of Audiovisual Documents. Here one find Latvian documentary films, newsreels, animation films and feature films, created by both audiovisual industry professionals and amateurs, dating back to 1910 through to the present day. Various visual materials are also available to the public on the YouTube channel Digital Humanities in Latvia, where conversations, lectures, instructions and other video works on digital research and the digital humanities in Latvia can be found.
At present, the most relevant and comprehensive concerning digitalization in the context of society and culture is “Towards Development of Open and FAIR Digital Humanities Ecosystem in Latvia”. At present, the most relevant and comprehensive concerning digitalization in the context of society and culture is "Towards Development of Open and FAIR Digital Humanities Ecosystem in Latvia" or DHELI, which is implemented under the auspices of the National Research Program "Digital Humanities" and is financed by the Latvian Science Council. The DHELI project builds upon the outcomes of the National Research Program project "Digital Resources for the Humanities: Development and Integration," which was completed in October 2022. This was the first inter-institutional and interdisciplinary project in Latvia devoted to digital humanities and received an exceptional evaluation from international evaluators, affirming its remarkable impact and successful results.
The DHELI project will advance several fundamental research directions by integrating advanced computational methods into Latvian, Latgalian, and Livonian language corpora and relevant humanities and cultural heritage collections. This integration will encompass a diverse array of disciplines within the humanities, including literary studies, folklore studies, linguistics, history, and more, and lead to a substantial expansion of digital resources that are widely used in research, education and by the general public (e.g. tezaurs.lv, literatura.lv, garamantas.lv, livonian.tech), and specialized resources (such as korpuss.lv, humma.lv, and proza.lnb.lv) that can also be suitable for broader use. Moreover, the DHELI project will elevate Latvia's standing in the international research arena by strengthening its participation in CLARIN-EU and DARIAH-ERIC European level infrastructures for language technologies and digital humanities. "Membership in CLARIN enables the contribution of Latvian scientists to be integrated into the European and global research space, and facilitates the use of high-value language resources and tools created by scientists in other countries for both research and the creation of language technologies," explains CLARIN-LV National Coordinator Inguna Skadiņa.
Mission – the digital future of democracy in Latvia and digital democracy
Latvia's governmental bodies are open to various public participation initiatives, including digitally. According to the Cabinet of Ministers (CoM), public participation is the involvement of the public in the legislative and policy-making process, and in solving other issues of vital importance to the public in public administration, and at municipal, neighborhood and school level. In other words, anywhere where the most effective solutions to today's challenges are to be found. The CoM website provides an extensive introduction on how the public can participate in public administration processes. Of course digitalization opens up wide opportunities for every member of society to participate. Right now, the best-known civic initiatives in Latvia are:
- ManaBalss.lv – under the organization's wings are the initiative platform ManaBalss.lv, as well as the digital democracy platforms Lemejs.lv and Open2Vote.eu. The organization's mission is develop and consolidate the digital democracy ecosystem both in Latvia and globally. One of the organization's long-term goals is increasing the power of public participation in decision-making processes.
- Trauksmescelejs.lv – whistleblowing is an opportunity to encourage lawful, honest, open and transparent organizational activity in the public and private sectors, exercising the right to freely express one's opinion. This platform provides the Latvian public with the opportunity to raise the alarm if necessary.
- Latvian Open Technologies Association combines organizations and private individuals, including Information Technology suppliers and users, who see economic benefits for themselves, their organization or society as a whole from the broader use of open technologies in Latvia. Open technologies are considered to be solutions based on open standards using open or closed source code. Use of open standards for information exchange and storage is a necessary prerequisite for free competition within the IT solutions market between commercial and open source code software.
- Latvia's open data portal – open data is freely accessible free information without reuse restrictions, which can edited and automatically processed with freely available applications. Various data sets are available here, which can be used to created new solutions or to improve existing ones.
- Kopdare.lv – an individual initiative for increasing participation and civic activity in the Districts of Jelgava and Ozolnieki.
- Cilvektiesibugids.lv is a European platform providing education on human rights. The platform offers educational tools and resources on human rights for the general public and professionals, and serves as a cooperation network for organizations and governmental bodies in the field of human rights' education. The Human Right Guide was devised, based on the idea that everyone is entitled to know their rights.
In 2023, researcher Indra Mangula published a study – population survey entitled “Participation in Latvia”. The survey was conducted from 24 November to 12 December 2022. The participants in the survey can be typified as civically active, knowledgeable and interested in participation, recognizing the opportunities for involvement inside and outside Latvia's political environment. In describing their experience of involvement, respondents most frequently mention the ManaBalss platform, participation in elections, aid actions in support of Ukraine, participation in NGOs and public discussions. Civic engagement is primarily motivated by the significance of the subject under discussion. However, civic duty and cooperation with fellow citizens are also important factors influencing the decision whether or not to get involved.
Among the most valuable industries
Just like in a lot of other countries, the ICT sector in Latvia has experience dizzying development in recent years. The financing business Capitalia has estimated that Latvia's ICT industry was worth about EUR 2.8 billion in 2022. During the last year, the industry's value has risen by 12%, making it one of the fastest growing industries of all. In 2021, the ICT industry paid EUR 603.25 million euros in taxes to the Treasury and provided almost 39,000 professional with jobs.
In regard to the 25 most valuable companies in the ICT industry, one can conclude that nearly half the core business is connected to computer programming. However, it also involves innovative solutions created in Latvia. For example, Printful Latvia, which provides printing, sewing and delivery outsourcing services globally, was deemed to be the fourth most valuable company in the ICT industry. At present, it is the only so-called unicorn company, or the only Latvian start-up whose value exceeds USD one billion. There are no end of expectations and hopes that Printful Latvia will have successors, because Latvia has a well-developed start-up ecosystem, which will definitely surprise the world with new digital tools during the next few years.
The article was written within ERDF project No. 126.96.36.199/17/I/002 "Integrated national measures to strengthen the representation of Latvian R&D interests in the European Research Area"