miércoles, 9 de mayo de 2018

Digital outlooks for the future

The political ideas of Emmanuel Macron are far away from my vision of the world. However, he is perhaps one of the few front-line politicians who is able to speak more than five minutes about the world digitalisation, the policies needed for boosting it and its consequences. Some months ago, he gave an interview focused on his plans to make France a leader on AI development. To begin with, he chosen for put forward his ideas on the field a prestigious and global digital sector magazine, Wired, which is in itself a declaration of the importance he gives to the technological issues.

One of the passages of the interview was dedicated to the different models of AI development that USA and China are followed and what should be the European model. His thesis are not only applicable to AI field, but to digitalisation broadly speaking. On one hand, the firm-driven digitalisation model , "In the US , it is entirely driven by the private sector, large corporations, and some startups dealing with them. All the choices they will make are private choices that deal with collective values". On the other hand, the governments-driven digitalisation model, "Chinese players collect a lot of data driven by a government whose principles and values are not ours".

The President Macron did not develop completely the consequences of the above models neither which model could be an alternative to both, except some vague ideas about putting forward human development instead of technological development. Therefore, we should first stop a few minutes thinking about the different economic and social models that may be the outcome of firms-driven digitalisation and a governments-driven digitalisation.

Perhaps, we are more familiarized with the firms-driven model. As a consequence of our free-market economy embedded in a global trade system,  Europe initial steps towards digitalisation have been promoted mainly by private companies. We are witnessing how the digital giants are extending their outprint each day in more services beyond information and contents, like transport or lodging. From time to time, we get awareness that huge pile of data is held and exchanged within the private sector with few control from the citizens and their governments. The main usage of dgital technologies is for increasing productivity whatever the consequences. 

The final outcome of such a firms-driven model would certainly be an open a global economy, but based only in private interests with a diminishing weight of democracy and collective decisions. A private surveillance system would be globally established, with positive consequences for our consumer face but a dark side for our citizen part. There would also be a risk a neo-slaveism and precarization emerging from the pressure of a growing automatisation and the provision of job posts through digital platforms.

It is more difficult for us to visualise an exclusively governments-driven model due to our geo-political belonging to the Western World. However, it is easy to imagine as the first consequence the balkanisation of Internet promoted for governments in order to control the information and contents available. The governments would play a crucial role in the digitalisation of all the activities. Therefore, the application of digital technologies could be guided not only with productivity as the main goal but also to seek the society well-being.

This goverments-driven dgitalisation model has as its main negative outcome its orwellian footprint. Also different Internet fiefdoms would emerge with few connectivity between them, losing the global scale of the network and the unlimited availability of services. Nevertheless, a smoothest transition to automatisation could happen and its social consequences more easily absorbed.

Neither of the scenarios are probably appealing for our European minds. As President Macron said in the interview, "Europe is the place where the DNA of democracy was shaped", and the shared consequence of the firms-driven digitalisation and governments-driven digitalisation is jibarisation of citizenship. Therefore, the vaccine against both models should be around citizen empowerment, through enshrining both individuality and the importance of commonality. The individual has rights but the progress could only be based on public interest decided by the collectivity.

So the alternative to the governments-driven and firms-driven model for digitalisation should be based in a radical transparency of algorithms usage by governments and firms. Neither checking the effective fulfillment of our rights nor the defend of the public interest are possible without it. Algorithm transparency is the enabler for the limitation of surveillance but also the brake to censhorship and the lantern on unfair relationships in the labour and business spheres.

We know the alternatives, the question is finding the path to the right one.


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