"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. Among the topics of the 5th World Congress of Latvian Scientists "Science for Latvia" was 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 the development of this field and in making sure that is meaningfully used.
"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," underlines Jānis Grabis.
Modern education is often publicly discussed in 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 great merit in the digitization of Latvian education. 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 the 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 the right course of action. Instead, there is satisfaction." At the same time, it must also be acknowledged that opportunities to use technology in educational institutions often run counter to access to finance.
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 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.
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.
On the “Resource Library” section 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 finds 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.
Currently, 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 within the framework of the National Research Programme "Digital Humanities" and is funded by the Latvian Council of Science. The DHELI project will implement fundamental research – internationally approved computer methods will be adapted to the corpus of Latvian, Latgalian and Livonian languages. Both digital resources have already gained public prominence and are widely used, such as tezaurs.lv, literatura.lv, garamantas.lv, livonian.tech, as well as those that are more specific and designed for scientific purposes, but can also be useful in general education and other areas such as korpuss.lv, humma.lv, proza.lnb.lv, will be significantly complemented and developed.
In Latvia, state institutions are open to various public participation initiatives, including digital ones. Within the meaning of the Cabinet of Ministers, public participation is public involvement in the regulatory and policy-making process and solving other issues important to the public interest in state administration, local government, neighborhood, school – anywhere where the most effective solution to modern challenges must be reached. The Website of the Cabinet of Ministers also extensively describes how it is possible to participate in the processes of public administration. Of course, digitalization opens up a wide range of opportunities for everyone in society to participate. Currently, the most visible civic initiatives in Latvia are ManaBalss.lv, Trauksmescelejs.lv, Latvian Open Technology Association, Latvian Open Data Portal, Kopdare.lv, Cilvektiesibugids.lv.
The ICT sector in Latvia has experienced dizzying development in recent years. In 2022, the lending company “Capitalia” estimated the value of the Latvian ICT sector at around EUR 2.8 billion. Over the past year, the value of the industry has increased by 12%, which is one of the fastest growths among industries. In 2021, the ICT sector paid EUR 603.25 million in taxes to the state budget, providing almost 39 thousand workers 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 is 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.