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Frequently asked questions

Directed digitalisation
How is society influenced by digital technologies?

Our lives are changing due to technology. The Rathenau Instituut has identified seven themes that demand our attention, and with regard to which we may be required to reach new agreements: 

1. Privacy
How we do organise:

  • data protection
  • the right to digital inviolability of the home
    Our own homes, that we view very much as our own private domain, are becoming more transparent, as processes in the home can now be monitored via home-based devices.
  • mental privacy 
    In an era of facial recognition and emotion sensors, how do you keep your thoughts and feelings private?
  • surveillance
  • function creep
    When ICT systems built for one particular purpose are subsequently increasingly used for multiple (other) purposes

2. Autonomy
What agreements must be made with regard to:

  • freedom of choice
  • freedom of expression
  • manipulation
    The influencing of behaviour, for example by the spreading of disinformation and microtargeting during election campaigns.
  • protecting democracy
  • paternalism
    From a technological viewpoint, it is possible for a smart refrigerator to alter someone’s weekly order for their favourite cheese, for example by ordering a lower-fat cheese in response to the reading from a biometric sensor that indicates that the person’s cholesterol levels have risen too high. Can we allow the refrigerator and the biometric sensor to jointly take that decision without our intervention?
  • skills
  • the limits to self-reliance

3. Security
How do we protect our:

  • information
  • identity
  • physical safety

4. Control over technology
What agreements do we need to reach on:

  • control over and transparency of algorithms
  • responsibility and accountability of for algorithms
  • predictability

5. Human dignity
How do we prevent:

  • dehumanisation or instrumentalisation
    If robots take over such tasks as feeding and lifting, people may start to feel like objects.
  • De-skilling 
    For example, the decline in moral skills (deskilling) when persuasive systems start directing us towards morally correct behaviour, or a decline in physical and mental skills when  computer systems take over tasks previously carried out by humans
  • de-socialisation
    When people start to view virtual interaction as more pleasant and more stimulating than complex social interactions in the physical world.
  • unemployment

6. Equity and Equality
How do we guarantee equal treatment and prevent:

  • discrimination
  • exclusion
  • stigmatisation

7. Inequality in the balance of power
What agreements do we need to reach on:

  • relationships between consumers and businesses
  • relationships between businesses and platforms
  • competition
  • exploitation, relationships between workers and platforms
What is the aim of this report?

This report describes how between 1 January 2017 and 30 June 2018, work was undertaken in the Netherlands on a digital transition focusing on people and values.

Our aim is to demonstrate the steps taken by government, businesses and other parties with a view to strengthening the Dutch governance system in this area, and to identify which further steps are necessary to arrive at a non-exclusive digital society.

Does this report also deal with the National Digitalisation Strategy?

This report deals with the way in which the Netherlands worked towards the digital transition between 1 January 2017 and 30 June 2018. The conclusion is that there is not yet sufficient focus on people and values.

With its National Digitalisation Strategy, which was released in June 2018, the Cabinet published an overarching agenda on digitalisation. Social and ethical aspects are part of that agenda, for example in the form of priorities such as fundamental rights and ethics in the digital era’, ‘the dynamic digital economy’ and ‘strengthening resilience among citizens and organisations’.

Furthermore, in mid-2018, an interdepartmental workshop was established to consider the social and ethical aspects of digitalisation. In that sense, at least, there is now greater consultation and coordination within government.

Nonetheless, there is still room for improvement. This report offers a number of recommendations in that regard.

The 'governance system' must be strengthened. What exactly is meant by 'governance system'?

Governance is the system according to which a society governs itself. It is the way in which society deals with social issues in word (discussion) and deed (decisions).

The governance system regarding social and ethical aspects of digitisation consists of players who define social and ethical issues and put them on the policy and political agenda and translate them into actions, policy instruments and laws. Governance is about the way rules and values  are developed, sustained, regulated and held accountable. Government is just one of the many parties with a role to play: the governance system also consists of businesses, watchdogs (regulators) and civil society organisations, as well as the individual members of the general public.

Government does, however, govern those other parties in both a formal and informal manner; through legislation, by encouraging debate, by imposing penalties or by negotiating on agreements.

This is a follow up to the report Urgent Upgrade. What was the conclusion of that report?

In Urgent upgrade, the Rathenau Instituut argued that an update or an upgrade of the governance system is urgently needed in order to secure public values in a digital society.

The degree of urgency relates directly to the recognition that it often takes decades to establish an effective governance system.