But there’s also a dark side to digitisation
We need Rathenau’s prescience again today. Digitisation has become integral to our lives; it is critical to our businesses, it is changing our government, and it is even influencing our romantic relationships. The time separating each successive change is growing shorter, and the arrival of the super-fast national 5G network will only quicken the pace. That’s why it’s high time for us to think about how we deal with digitisation.
On the one hand, digitisation puts pressure on such public values as decent work, security and human dignity. For example, a recent study by the Rathenau Instituut has shown that robots and artificial intelligence are taking over a growing number of human tasks. We’ve also recently discovered that ransomware poses a security threat to port terminals, power plants, hospitals – even our own holiday snaps. Digitisation puts other values at risk too: autonomy, justice, technological control, and a fair balance of power.
How do we create an ethical digital society?
Digitisation also offers us all sorts of opportunities, as our publications A fair share and Urgent Upgrade show. But it’s up to us to take advantage of them. To create an ethical digital society, we need to follow the example of our predecessors in 1979 and work together to ensure that digitisation genuinely supports the values that we all share – the values laid down in our constitution and in human rights conventions. That is the challenging subject that we will be addressing over the next few months in this series of blogs. We have invited philosophers and practitioners to share their ideas and their solutions for our reflection. We’ll focus on a different theme every month, for example the power of super platforms, the influence of algorithms on our lives, and how to preserve our autonomy.
How to contribute to our blog series
We hope that collecting these different views in one place will inspire all those involved in digitisation. Would you like to respond to a blog post or write one of your own? Then please contact our researchers Jurriën Hamer or Linda Kool. We also welcome your comments on Twitter, LinkedIn en Facebook.
Read more about the impact of digitisation
The Rathenau Instituut has spent the past few years studying digitisation at great length. One of the factors we noted is the potential of digital applications to violate personal privacy. That is why we made various recommendations in 2017:
- We must improve the way that we take decisions about digitisation. In other words, the Netherlands requires a better governance structure. That structure:
- will speed up the process of turning research findings about ethical issues into specific policy plans;
- will force businesses to take responsibility by agreeing on codes of ethics and by considering public values from the initial stages of product or service development;
- will ensure that users have a greater say and are better organised.
- Respect for human rights is essential to an ethical digital society.
- First of all, we must update existing rights and freedoms. After all, what does the right to ownership mean in the 21st century? Does it mean that your home can’t simply be designated as a Pokémon gym without your say? And what does the right to privacy mean when you and your devices are constantly being tracked?
- Second, we must think hard about ‘new’ rights and freedoms. The Rathenau Instituut has proposed introducing the ‘right to meaningful contact’ and the ‘right not to be manipulated, coached or tracked’.
By Melanie Peters, Director of the Rathenau Instituut
Be sure to read the other articles in the Decent Digitisation series, and the related reports: