Kathy Gibson is at Fujitsu Forum in Munich – The digital revolution will remain a pipe dream as long as we don’t achieve digital democracy.
This is one of the key messages delivered by Andreas Ekström, writer, TED speaker and futurist with the Swedish daily newspaper Sydsvenskan.
Ekström points out that the world faces some serious digital challenges over the next decade as we go through an unprecedented era of change.
“Who holds the power? And is there a responsibility associated with that power?”
We have shifted a lot of power into a very few hands, he says, and we need to be aware of this.
Probably the best way to negotiate the world of digital technology is not so much about finding the right answers, but about asking good questions instead, he says.
Ekström believes there are seven major digital issues we should be thinking about.
The first issue, he points out, is that people need to own their identity.
“Integrity is a luxury for those that can afford it,” Ekström says. People and nations that cannot afford to implement their own systems that guarantee their privacy are at the mercy of corporates that provide solutions while violating integrity.
The issue isn’t just confined to less wealthy nations, he adds. Indeed, even Sweden has privatised the issuing of identity for all its banks – probably because the solution is convenient and easy to use.
“We are the first digital generation,” he adds. “We need to make decisions that will stand the test of time; people will look back at us.
“We are all writing the digital constitution now – we are the founding fathers of the Internet , and we had better get it right.
“Making a quick buck or a short-term solution is not good enough. We need to rethink things like privatising ID – do some low, heavy and hard things.
“Don’t let usability stand in the way of a principled, solid solution.”
The issues are not confined to the first world. A massive 3-billion people are not connected today, and will come online in the next decade.
“Some countries will do the right things: some will go the quick and dirty route instead. Can you imagine how much power you would have if you could be the company in charge of their ID.”
Today, we live in the attention economy, and businesses compete to own people’s time.
As the Internet matures, the top couple of websites are taking up the lion’s share of users’ time and attention.
This is a long way from the original premise of the Internet where small or niche websites had an equal platform with any other site.
The low-key, quirky Internet that was envisioned has been sidelined by a handful of big platforms, Ekström says.
And this is getting worse, with the giants simply buying up competitors and thus further stifling competition.
With the attention economy creating company values at insane levels, we might have to rethink how taxation and remuneration works as well, he believes.
Digital players are now making money on money, Ekström adds.
While many industries have been disrupted out of existence by digital technology, the banks have found ways to thrive.
“The banks have understood that the future will be one of niche services. Small services for each thing. They have realised that if they don’t provide these services someone else will.”
The banks have the advantage of inherent trust and if they change the way they provide services they should thrive.
“I think the banks have a pretty good decade coming up.”
This could be threatened by a global central money system like Libra or another kind of giant player.
Information has always been important and has become even more relevant in the digital age.
However, with the new algorithms – and their massive scale – it means that a faceless someone is curating the content we all see.
In the digital age, we now have an intermediary that maintains contacts on behalf of every user and helps to organise almost every aspect of our lives.
“This is why we are so stuck on Facebook and why everyone believes they have to be on there.”
This convenience spawns a common place where all conversations take place – and surveillance is that much easier.
In fact, Ekström believes that the “sousveillance” lets thousands of little brothers look up rather than a single big brother looking down.
“We are building that society now, but making everything that everyone has ever done searchable. We are building a horrible society where we want public officials to live up to a standard that is impossible.
“Rather, we need to make it human to be digital,” Ekström adds.
“The transparency we are experimenting with – we don’t know what the consequences are,” he says. “They have to be judged by what can happen on the worst day.”
Part of making the Internet democratic is to ensure the net neutrality is maintained so that those with money are unable to prioritise their own traffic, Ekström concludes.