Social satirist Aldous Huxley’s futuristic novel anticipates how technological developments combine to profoundly change society – how we interact, consume, learn … and the role of authorities in our lives. Huxley’s Brave New World is set in 2540, but the complex questions he raises are already being played out in the emerging ‘digital society’.
“Let’s be clear; the world is changing,” notes Fabrizio Sestini from the European Commission in his paper analysing how Collective Awareness Platforms (CAPS) act as an engine for sustainable and ethical economic and social growth. “Traditional jobs and economic models cannot ignore the digital networked economy; the same way ‘digital’ replaced ‘analogue’ … network(s) and hyperlinks are replacing linear and hierarchical relationships.”
He offers two plausible scenarios for the evolution of our future digital society, oscillating somewhere between a topdown, closed economic model which supports competitive individual interests, and a “collective-awareness”, open social space which exploits the richness of human connections enabled by technology for collaboration.
Simply put, he says our natural resources cannot sustain more than 7 billion people if we continue a “business-as-usual” approach to growth, consumption and lifestyles. We need innovative solutions that challenge traditional ways of doing things, such as moving from closed R&D models to more open and collaborative forms of innovation, which promise to “unleash the power of collective intelligence [in] generating social awareness” for the public good.
This is where developments in the Future Internet – including not just the ability to collect and make sense of massive amounts of data (‘big data’) but also the opportunity to link ‘things’ (sensors, cars, clothing, machines, etc.) and promote ideas for social innovation – become so important.
“[The] networking of people at unprecedented scales, as enabled by the internet, creates a deluge of data, and huge and vastly untapped opportunities for the emergence of new forms of large-scale collaboration,” explains Sestini.
The challenge is not a technological one per se, but rather a human one: “The real challenge here is creating collective action and awareness, going beyond those things that ICT is already fairly good at doing and moving [towards] more complex aspects of social and collective intelligence.”
GOVERNANCE: FINDING THE RIGHT (SOCIAL) BALANCE
Investing in technological developments as a way of encouraging innovation-driven economic growth is a noble and worthy ambition for any public authority. But a balance between the technology and non-technology elements, such as relationships and community, must be found so new developments are not only socially and ethically acceptable but also desirable – so the benefits are more quickly felt.
This is not a ‘top-down’ versus ‘bottom-up’ argument on how the Future Internet or networks in general should be run or governed, but rather a proposition for more natural “self-governing” network ecosystems to evolve and grow, thanks to open platforms and open data.
FIRST CAPS CALL, BY THE NUMBERS
+650 applicants from 43 different countries
with funded projects like …
- CAP4ACCESS – Collectively removing barriers to inclusion
- DECARBONET – Raising collective awareness about environmental challenges
- D-CENT – New tools for direct democracy, participation, new economic models
- CATALYST – Experimenting new collective forms of creativity and collaboration
- WIKIRATE – Enabling citizens to rate companies on corporate social responsibility
CHEST – Seed funding to web innovators, research teams, communities and entrepreneurs,
for digital social innovation activities based on the network effect
USEMP and P2PValue – internet science projects
CAPS will have a second call in Horizon 2020 as priority ICT10, with a doubled budget, to fund pilots with pioneering ideas to exploit the networking power of ICT technologies to engage real communities and tackle real societal issues.
Source: “Collective Awareness Platforms: Engines for Sustainability and Ethics” IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY Magazine WINTER 2012
What’s more, according to Sestini, in the same way that the media has ‘converged’ into today’s digital offering – i.e. from TV for entertainment, internet for email, telephones for calling – we are likely to see a further convergence spawned by emerging internet trends: social media and the issue of data control; Wikipedia as a model for distributed knowledge; and the Internet of Things, as a direct bridge between people and the environment.
We are already seeing many examples of good ideas and projects based on this convergence which tackle societal problems using the “network effect”, says Sestini. For example, peer pressure driving more sustainable buying habits and opportunities for mass-scale reuse and exchange of goods.
The EU has taken a double-pronged approach to its nascent CAPs programme (see ‘What’s on the Horizon?’). First, it is supporting new thinking, pilots and prototypes for harnessing the wealth of data and input from citizens and their living environment. Second, it is promoting and integrating a coordinated, multidisciplinary research programme which underpins key concepts on collective awareness, such as value-creation models, online incentives, drivers of sustainable behaviour, etc.
The Commission’s DG CONNECT is under no illusion that it is a simple task. Sestini says a holistic approach is essential, encompassing the technical and social facets: “It is a complex process, where emerging best practices would show how to embed technology in political and social processes that generate real commitment and effort.”
- CAPS – http://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/collectiveawareness
- H2020 CAPS Call - https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/h2020-section/collective-awareness-platforms-sustainability-and-social-innovation-caps
(Article from net-innov future magazine (2014)).