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Belgium awakens from the technological dream

17 May 2021
digitalisation Innovation

De Kunstberg in Brussels (Photo: Tom van Limpt/HH)

Mensen zitten bovenaan de trappen van de Kunstberg en kijken uit op het oude centrum van Brussel.

Similar to the Netherlands, Belgium's view on digitisation is changing. Both countries seem to have awakened from the so-called technological dream. For years, scientists, entrepreneurs, politicians, and journalists generally assumed that technological progress would automatically lead to social progress. Criticism of high-tech entrepreneurs and other drivers of innovation was out of the question, and regulators let them get away with anything. Meanwhile, scandals such as the influencing of American voters in the 2016 presidential election with Facebook data (by the company Cambridge Analytics), have shown what this can lead to. Thus, the silence on how the information revolution is stealthily and radically changing the world is over.

That is the conclusion drawn by Rinie van Est, coordinator at the Rathenau Instituut, who, for the past two years, has been thinker-in-residence within the so-called Thinker's Programme on digital innovation of the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and the Arts (KVAB). Every year, the KVAB organises two 'thinker programmes' in which prominent international scientists are called upon to contribute to the social debate on an important theme, and to develop a vision on this theme for the longer term.

In a concluding essay, Van Est emphasises that the main issue now is how governments, businesses and citizens can steer digitisation in the right direction. According to him, the trick is to let technical and social innovation go hand in hand. Citizens and their values should be central. The main question should be: which digital society do we want to live in?

Read the essay

This essay appeared in KVAB Standpunten 66. Besides Rinie van Est, two other professors participated in this thinker's programme: Peter-Paul Verbeek (Philosophy at the University of Twente) and Jan Rabaey (Electrical Engineering at UC Berkeley).