By Anila Baig

FOR our series on Bradford Vision 2040, we are looking at how the district will evolve over the next two decades and today we turn our attention to one of the fastest evolving areas, technology.

IBM Fellow and Vice President, Rashik Parmar, is one of Europe’s leading experts in this field and he believes that harnessing the power of technology is the key to unlocking some of the world’s most severe problems and can also help Bradford’s burgeoning youth population in a myriad of ways.

Coming from an immigrant background and having grown up in West Yorkshire himself, he knows first-hand the challenges facing the young people here.

He is responsible for creating and driving the company’s European technical strategy and has worked with financial, retail and manufacturing clients on IT transformation projects of all sizes. Overall, he specialises in delivering complex IT projects that transform business models.

Rashik is also IBM’s Partnership Executive for Imperial College, London.

He is also an Adjunct Professor for Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Imperial College Business School and Visiting Professor.

He achieved these dizzying heights as the son of an immigrant who came to England as a toddler after fleeing Kenya when his father was made redundant.

“I was born in Kenya but having been here since the age of two this is the only country I know," he says.

His father deliberately chose to come here because of the excellent education system and Rashik knew from a young age that he had to work hard at school to live up to his parents’ expectations.

“We came to England primarily because the education was excellent," he says.

"Father always wanted to study but my grandfather could not afford to pay the fees. So they instilled the importance of education as a way forward.

"They allowed us to follow our own paths, but constantly reminded us of how lucky we were to have access to this education.”

He spent his formative years in Headingley which had its fair share of racial problems at the time.

“I grew up during the Enoch Powell days so lived through some tough times at school. This is partly why I am keen to help others and pay back to the education system that allowed me to pursue such a career.”

Growing up, he understood the traditional Asian aspirations of parents wanting their children to be doctors but at the age of 15 he was told he wasn’t bright enough to pursue a career in medicine.

“We were lucky to have access to an ICL computer at the Civic Hall and was fascinated by what they could do. The school was not able to teach Computer Science A-Level, so I went to what was then Kitson College and studied Computer Science in the evening. I was hooked.”

He ended up getting a place at the prestigious Imperial College to study Computer Science and from then his career took off.

We may only think of technology as being computers but for Rashik it encompasses every aspect of life.

“The water does not flow from the tap without technology. The food on the supermarket shelf is dependent on a wide range of technologies from the farm to the shelf. We are all much more connected and yet we do not seem to have enough time to really understand who we are.

“The fact that I can have a video call with a range of technologies with my sisters in Germany and Canada is wonderful. We can stay connected with their daily lives as if we were living a few doors away.”

But there is a serious side.

“The opportunity that this technology has created, is that a young person in Bradford could solve a societal issue and could make this available right round the world - instantly. This is both exhilarating and daunting at the same time.

“How do we help our young people imagine a better Bradford that would be the envy of the rest of the world?

“How can we give them the knowledge and access to the technologies to allow these dreams to come true? The fact that hundreds of kids still go to school without breakfast is something we should all be ashamed of and start to use technologies to solve these unacceptable situations.”

Rashik believes we are at a very early stage in the evolution of technologies despite what we see on film and television.

“Quantum computing is at a very early stage and we know these will allow us to solve issues we cannot imagine today," he says.

"For example, 1947 saw the invention of the transistor. By mid- 2015 we had over billion transistors to every human alive.

"We continue to double the amount of digital data every 18 months. This is set to continue for many years into the future.”

Because technology is fast-moving, it is impossible to predict where we will be in 20 years’ time.

“It is impossible to predict the future and for things like driverless cars, the technologies mostly exist.

“For example, in 1998 Kevin Warwick had a chip embedded that allowed him to unlock his car and open doors. He has also used thought control to through an embedded chip to move a prosthetic arm.

“However, we are still a long way from these being common place.”

This is not because of technology per se but other factors.

“The bulk of the issues we face are not technological, but rather legal, economic and societal," he says. "I have no doubt that technologies will be used to make us more productive at home, at work and at leisure.

“So I see technology helping augment and support what we do, it will help us realise our potential and help solve some of the toughest problems.

"It will help us find personalised cures to medical conditions or find the expert that can help us with the problem we are trying to solve.

“However, we do need to have responsible technology providers that are open, ethical and inclusive.

"For Bradford, I think the young people have an opportunity just like all young people around the world, to be the first to apply these technologies to solve the problems that really matter.”

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