Over the past eighteen months, the Netherlands has started to realise the massive scale of the impact of digitalisation on society. Digitalisation is not longer essentially a reference to a collection of gadgets but has gradually been recognised as a transition process, with opportunities and risks. A key question for the future is therefore how the Netherlands should structure that transition.
The most important message from the Rathenau Instituut is that government, the private sector and civil society organisations need to shape and direct the digital society in such a way that greater focus is placed on people and values. Only then can a digital society be created, in which no one is excluded. With that in mind, in this report we propose five actions.
Read the five actions on the tab page 'Recommendations'.
Ethical issues are more prominent on the agenda
This report will show that government and many other parties have started to act on the message from Urgent Upgrade. A whole raft of social and ethical questions, for example about our understanding of algorithms and a fair data economy, are far more clearly present on the agenda than two years ago. Policy makers, regulators and civil society organisations are already developing knowledge about the new themes. In respect of privacy and security, the step has been taken from agenda shaping and policy making to actual policy implementation. Over the past eighteen months, therefore, the governance system has changed for the better.
In other areas, themes have been placed on the agenda, but not yet translated into actual policy measures. Examples are the protection of democracy, understanding of algorithms and a fair, competitive data economy.
A number of technologies and their related societal issues have also not yet been placed on the agenda. Examples are facial recognition, virtual and augmented reality and the possible health effects of digital technology.
Working towards a digital transition focused on people and values
Various parties such as policy makers, politicians, civil society organisations, regional and local governments, professional associations and regulators recognise the importance of protecting public values. They are clearly considering the issue of what digitalisation means for their organisation, sector or practice. The key question however is how we can best manage this digital transition. Many have recognised that protecting public values and fundamental rights must be the starting point for digitalisation.
This means a turnaround in the debate on the deployment and influence of digital technologies: from a focus on technology and the assumption that it will automatically lead to social progress, to a focus on the interaction between digitalisation and values. On the one hand, digitalisation is a tool for tackling social challenges while on the other hand it is a development that could compromise public values. By viewing digitalisation as a transition, the focus is placed prominently on the question ‘what type of digital society do we want to live in?’. To answer that question, an integrated approach to innovation is needed, that gives shape and direction to the digital transition and as a result to our society, from the viewpoint of public values.
Five actions to reinforce the governance system
We propose five actions that will help policy makers, businesses and civil society organisations to reinforce the governance system. For more information read the tab page 'Recommendations'.
A follow up to the report Urgent Upgrade
This report is a follow-up to our report Urgent Upgrade published in February 2017, written in response to the Gerkens motion that was adopted by the Dutch Senate. That report mapped out a broad spectrum of societal and ethical aspects of digitalisation.
Kool, L., E. Dujso, and R. van Est (2018). Deliberate digitalisation – Working towards a digital transition focused on people and values – The Dutch approach. The Hague: Rathenau Instituut