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Empowerment, Governance and Policy Making

In 2050, people will be more empowered than ever to share knowledge, be aware about their environment and take informed and responsible decisions. The emergence of communities of empowered individuals will likely challenge the roles of the representative decision makers currently running politics, information, education and welfare systems.

There will be a shift in democracy, particularly in the democratic process and the underlying principles. 20th century's long-cherished practices and concepts such as voting every few years, party manifestoes, horse trading in which some issues and wishes are compromised in the need to reach agreement on others, etc. will simply be history.

Citizens will express their opinions in a more immediate, direct way, on the issues that count for them. A new model of decision making will take account of the particularities of a street, village, community, region, country, block, or whatever in a flexible and adaptable way. It would enable direct consultation on issues, large or small, on different scales and for different implementations. This doesn't mean demagogy - safeguards can be built in to avoid silly outcomes - but it can address a pressing need for accountability. 

As a consequence of the digital and social transformation, representative democracy will evolve and its actors will rely on online participatory democracy practices to harness collective knowledge and create co-ownership around it. New forms of liquid democracy will emerge where elected representatives are given agile, mission-oriented mandates to address particular challenges or opportunities.

New e-Democracy tools will be adopted by governments and communities at all levels. They will implement customisable policies to govern the sharing of resources similarly to the algorithms used by computers' operating systems (e.g. time sharing). A new societal operating system will therefore emerge as a federation of multiple operating systems (e.g. city operating systems).

The capability to inter-connect brains and thinks with increasingly faster and reliable forms of communication (e.g. quantum internet) will mark a significant step towards the vision of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin of a supreme point (Omega Point) toward which the universe is constantly developing to reach increasingly higher levels of consciousness and unity.

In this context, the social contract of the 21st century will likely change to take account of new power balances, i.e. "state powers" vs. power of individuals and  the growing role of communities.

Governance will likely evolve to take account of the unprecedented capability of individuals, communities and states to sense, monitor and decide on globally shared resources and infrastructures. In 30-40 years, most of the sectors, e.g. the internet, media, energy supply infrastructures, water, food etc. will be regulated in a more participatory and "algorithmic" way. New power balances will be reflected in new forms of self and co-regulation.  A new world order dominated by agile co-decision will emerge.

 

Key transformative forces (partly already visible in today's trends)

Related to individuals:

  1. Anytime and anywhere access to the right information by anyone, particularly the possibility to retrieve data and draw meaningful and actionable knowledge instantaneously.
    1. The ITU reports that from 2007 to 2013 (estimated), world wired broadband subscriptions increased from 346 million to 696 million, mobile broadband subscriptions increased from 268 million to over 2 billion, and mobile cellular subscriptions increased from 3.4 billion to 6.8 billion

Related to technology:

  1. Smart infrastructure and the internet will enable to monitor the impact of policies more rapidly and to produce more accurate projections and forecasts (e.g. through big data and simulation).
    1. According to Cisco IBSG, the number of connected devices will increase from 500 million in 2003 (0.08 per person on the planet) to 50 billion by 2020 (6.58 per person)
  2. The ability to gain insight into the status of the real world (individuals, society, economy, environment, etc.) will make it possible to inform policy decisions more accurately than ever.
  3. New technologies (e.g. mixed and augmented reality) that enable rapid learning in all kinds of contexts, resulting in a shift from linear education patterns to personalised and spontaneous lifelong learning.
    1. 50,000 augmented reality (AR) glasses were shipped in 2012, which is expected to rise to 124,000 by the end of 2013, and potentially 10 million by 2016 (in the long run)
  4. The augmentation of human's cognitive and intellectual abilities through the plug-in of artificial implants, as well as the widespread adoption of medical treatments and applied psychology to improve performance.
    1. “A survey of 1,400 adults carried out by Nature found that one in five said they had taken Ritalin, Provigil or beta-blockers to stimulate focus, concentration or memory”

Related to society:

  1. New platforms for social networking that allow citizens to self-organise into communities to address shared problems in a more structured, responsible and concurrent manner.
    1. According to Pew Internet & American Life Project, 39% of Americans take part in political activities on social networking sites; in 2008 3% of American adults posted political stories or links on social networking sites, rising to 17% by 2012
  2. Increased awareness of citizens of the possibilities offered by social networks to organise political movements and exert influence on politics.
  3. Increasing people awareness of other people's actions, including the right to access personal data granted by trusted peers and the right to revoke decisions on owned data.

Related to governance:

  1. Increasing capability of national security intelligences and states to access data from the real world, including personal data, which could otherwise require complex legal and political transactions. 
    1. The American National Security Agency has direct access to search history, emails, file transfers, and live chats via internet services such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and others.
  2. The ability of governments to enable their constituencies to 'influence' policy decisions, i.e. by empowering stakeholders (including citizens) to co-create ideas to provide better grounds for the decisions that matter to them
  3. The reduced power of states to enforce their own policies on global communities (e.g. Google, Facebook, etc.), because of the direct or indirect pressure exerted by public opinion when dealing with communities that are perceived as part of their personal sphere.
  4. The limited capability of today's local, national and global democratic institutions to put in place effective responses to the system crisis. The global financial crisis started in 2008 is persisting and there is an evident difficulty to find sustainable solutions.
  5. Most western countries are financially poorer today than they have been in a generation. They are frequently mistrusted by their citizens and are struggling to find their feet in a digital world. Consequently the role, relevance and in some cases even the legitimacy of governments becomes precarious.
    1. According June 2013 data from OECD central government debt as a percentage of GDP for “Western” countries has risen over the last five years, from 2007 to 2012:
      1. Greece: from 119% to 166%
      2. Euro area: from 72% to 104%
      3. United States: from 66% to 106%
      4. UK: from 47% to 104%
      5. Canada: from 65% to 86%

 

 

Note:
The results of all brainstormings undergone at the "Ground-breaking Policies for Future Societies" workshop, including this very vision, can be found here.

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Challenges: 
  1. Reconciling the continuous tension between individual and collective powers falling in between two extreme models: 1) a society where only a few decide on and for all, either as elected representatives, or because new forms of  oligarchic power able to exert societal manipulation; 2) a society with neither classes nor hierarchies, characterised by participatory leadership and new forms of "cahordic" organisation, where all have the possibility to co-decide on most if not all issues that matter to them.
  2. Finding the right balances between the need to protect the rights of individuals (e.g. privacy) and the need to ensure security in a world of tensions. Reflecting these new balances in future data jurisdictions, distinguishing between the different stages of the data value chain (sensing, gathering, access, monitoring, control, mining, quality assurance, management...) and powers (states, communities, groups, individuals).
  3. Ensure that EU values are presented and leveraged on at the global scale; for instance, ensuring that principles as openness, transparency, fairness, privacy, trust are encoded into future technologies and services 'by design'.
  4. Challenge for politicians to represent citizens, interests and needs in a different way, to adapt to a different way of interacting with their citizens and networks and with new ways of collecting knowledge for policy-making and win electorates; need to adapt their leadership and to become more participatory.
  5. Increased empowerment of individuals cannot be at the expenses or risks of other individuals, communities and states (e.g. security risks). The difficulty to find universally accepted trade-offs may be a barrier to the practical implementation and deployment of future citizen empowerment technologies and infrastructures.
  6. A too rapid pace of development of empowering technologies and their commoditisation, may lead to fragmented regulations and generate social or geographical divides; new approaches will be needed to minimise risks of tensions and conflicts.
  7. Challenge: reading throughput of individuals is today limited by our biological constraints (for instance visual information acquisition) but in the future this could change. What if no progress will be seen in this respect? The risk of missing the essence of the discourse and be overwhelmed of information is high.
  8. More powerful future technologies will make the trade-off between individual and collective empowerment even more dramatic. One instance of individual empowerment issue is the ethical concerns related to the enhancement and life-extension of people which will make them cyborgs. One instance of collective empowerment issue is the sustainability which must be attained if our civilisation is to survive beyond the 21st century. Policy- and decision-makers will have to make painful arbitrage between the two and ethics will play an important role in supporting them.
  9. The technologies developed in the 20th century have dramatically extended our outreach and our capabilities, although they do not give a meaning to our life as such. Therefore, the real issue is not Human-Machine interaction but Human-Human relationships mediated by technology.
Opportunities: 
  1. Opportunity to review current governance models and explore new governance paradigms to ensure resilience of the present and future hyper-connected society.
  2. Opportunity to ensure that EU values are presented and leveraged on at the global scale; for instance, ensuring that principles as openness, transparency, fairness, privacy, trust are encoded into future technologies and services 'by design'.
  3. Opportunity for citizens to learn and adapt to new policy making practices and new ways of exercising political rights.
Questions: 
What does this mean for our democracies? What are the issues at stake?
Is there a need to review the current social contracts (complex sets of principles and laws governing the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual and vice-versa) in the light of the change of power balances?
Are there any technological roadblocks to be overcome to support new forms of democracy?
What are the technological gaps (e.g. foundations, standards), cultural barriers, regulatory needs to be filled to empower citizens to truly become responsible actors in decision making processes?
How liability will be affected?
Timeframe: 
2050
Desirability: 

Likelihood: 

Curators: 

Underpinning policy ideas