Attempts to censor alleged “fake news” on the Internet will backfire massively. The main stream media and main stream politicians should rather make a better effort to convince people. The internet is open to them too.
One of the promises of the internet has been that it will bring about better democracy (here and here, for example). Even before the web was invented, Vannevar Bush, the creator of the hypertext concept and the Memex machine expected that science and information will lead to a better society (source).
Since 1990s, when those ideas started to materialize, everybody saw that the internet was vastly increasing the access to information and the ease of connecting people.
The conventional wisdom has been that better informed citizens would be making better political decisions and that the more connected people will also be forging a more tightly connected society. This would both lead to e- (for electronic) or i- (for internet) democracy.
The peak of eDemocracy
In retrospect, it would appear that the peak eDemocracy optimism was reached in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States.
His was one of the first campaigns where the internet played a major – some would say decisive – role. Facebooks’ revolutions, Ukrainan and Arab Springs, reinforced the hope in the positive change that information technology can bring to the world.
Social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter were the heroes of the day. Revolutions were won on Twitter and dictators toppled on Facebook.
And then Brexit and Trump won. No longer are the social media the heroes of the day. On the contrary. The internet is now blamed for results that were not what the main stream media and the intelligentsia recommended.
There is an old saying that goes, “On the internet no one knows you are a dog”. On Facebook no one knows your news company has a skyscraper on Manhattan or offices on Fleet Street.
You could be a teenager in Macedonia or an independent writing for Breitbart News or an anonymous blogger. The internet would carry your messages in exactly the same way as if you were a “proper” media.
Social Networks would disseminate news based on enthusiasm of readers’ recommendations, not based on pedigree.
Brexit and Trump
For the first time people’s opinions were largely shaped by their peers not by professional opinion makers and thought leaders. We, the people, were the gatekeepers, not the main stream media.
Greener’s Law – don’t argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel – was proven wrong. It is a version of a saying “you don’t argue with children or the journalists”. The first would in the end throw a stone into your window, the journalist would always have the last word.
Trump was able to wage a frontal war with main stream media and was able to win it. On the Internet, the social media has the last word.
Ending up in the losing side, the main stream media invented excuses and concepts such as fake news and post truth. It had the opposite effect.
People were reminded, on the internet, that it was the old media that has been biased and openly colluded with one of the sides in the UK referendum and US elections. News from main stream media was labelled “fake news” too, just as was from the new media.
Internet as a threat
For the main stream media and main stream politics the internet suddenly fell of grace – it is not a tool of human rights and democracy any more. Free and open internet is not seen as an asset of our democracy but a threat.
Politicians, particularly in Europe, are speaking openly about the threat that Facebook and other social media are for democracy. They are calling for the regulation of social networks (Germany, France, EU).
They would like to ban fake news and make sure that only the properly verified content can be spread by the users. It is tragic to see how happy the internet companies are to comply (Facebook), instead of standing firm and not letting any form of censorship interfere with the free exchange of ideas on their networks.
The established politics and media cannot afford that democratic procedures – with the help of social networks – bring about a wrong result again. In 2017 there will be very important elections in France and Germany and the anxiety is understandable.
But calling results of a democratic election or a referendum wrong is the essence of a failed understanding of democracy and of the impacts of internet on democracy. That it causes wrong results. That democracy reaches wrong decisions.
What happened to the maxim that “in a democracy the people are always right”?
Friction free democracy
Bill Gates famously said that the essential contribution of the internet is that it reduces friction in the economy. That it brings buyers and sellers closer together and is providing more information about each other.
The same that was said about the economic market can be said about the political market. There is less friction between the will of the people and politics. There is more information about the people and about politicians.
It would be wrong to re-introduce friction – with measures that are essentially censorship by some kind of an Orwellian ministry of truth. In Germany an organization called Correctiv will be telling what is the Truth and what is not. In France a panel of old media representatives will be doing the same.
I have no doubt in the good intentions of all that. As I have no doubt that the social media companies are playing along not because of good intentions but because of business interests.
I am just afraid that it will backfire. Backfire massively. And the stakes are simply too high. The very existence of the European Union is hanging by the thread of the French elections. And with the existence of the European Union the existence of European Civilization. It can’t be protected by former superpowers individually.
Use the level playing field
Instead of shaping the internet according to their wishes, the main stream media and main stream politicians should make a better effort to convince people. The internet is open to them too.
They will need to do better than calling someone a fascist or a populist. The net should be used to debate issues not exchange labels and hashtags. It should be used to argue. To speak to people’s fears and dreams. This is not populism, this is democracy.
Will we get a wrong result? When asked if the French Revolution was a positive or a negative event in history, chairman Mao answered that it may be too early to tell.
This may be a post truth story but it helps introduced my point. Which is, it may be too early to tell if Brexit was wrong. I think it was a mistake. But I also think blaming the internet for it is a mistake as well. And drawing policy decisions from this wrong diagnosis would lead to even graver mistakes.
The internet is making democracy more challenging and open. Having friends and support in main stream media is not enough anymore.
People, not just journalists, are gatekeepers and they need to be convinced. So let’s stop bashing Facebook, let’s stop blaming Russian hackers, lets scrap the ideas for censorship of social networks. Let’s stand for the freedom of speech with includes freedom to fake news!
The so called populists thrive on “us” vs. “them” narrative. People have sympathy for the underdogs. They elected Trump and chose Brexit against the better advice of the dominant speech in the main stream media.
If that domination spreads to the social media as well, the job of “populists” would only be easier. Whole internet cannot be controlled. Somewhere they will read how unfair the battle of their David against the enemies’ Goliath is.
Fake news neutrality
Out societies need more trust. And that means trusting people that they will be able to distinguish between true and fake themselves. And trust the idea that true can win over fake without tilting the playing field against the fake.
Let’s trust in the power of true and the weakness of fake enough to keep the internet and the social networks “fake news” neutral and open to all.
Picture credit: AlexaGrace8495
One of the key instruments we need to boost digital skills are partnerships on all levels and between all stakeholders – business, schools universities, research centres and the institutions.
“A remarkable new invention can’t transform society until society has learned how to use it effectively”, writes Ryan Avent who is the economics editor of the Economist and together with whom we took part in a key event that launched the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition.
The Coalition is a tiny little revolution within the digital revolution that marks the understanding of all business sectors, and not only the ICT companies, that digital skills are the currency of the future societies.
According to predictions made by the International Data Corporation, by 2020, 50 percent of the G2000 (The Forbes Global 2000 is an annual ranking of the top 2,000 public companies in the world by Forbes magazine) will see that the majority of their business depend on their ability to create digitally enhanced products, services, and experiences.
Additionally, by year-end 2017, over 70 percent of the G500 will have dedicated digital transformation and innovation teams.
Already today, 70% of all jobs require at least moderate levels of digital skills – a number that will raise up to 90% in the coming few years.
In this situation the worst we can do is to leave education systems alone in supplying new, skilled labour force for the current demand.
That is why one of the instruments we need are partnerships on all levels and between all stakeholders – business, schools universities, research centres and the institutions.
As we have experienced in the past, labour markets can sustain a lot of digital disruption. Nobody was in favour of innovations back in the day when the industrial revolution was happening.
Although some industries were worse off, those who did innovate back then, were the ones who later were in need of new type of labour force.
This new demand made people start skilling up themselves and applying for the new type of work. This is why I think we need to invest in skills and partnerships between businesses, schools and universities and policy-makers, so we align the supply and demand of skilled workers. This is the way we can make the best out of the occurring transition.
Picture credits: clement127
As increasing number of services and consumers go digital, the social and economic cost of financial exclusion is likely to increase exponentially if governments together with the private sector do not address this issue with speed. Encouragingly, positive steps are being taken at EU and national levels.
For too long financial inclusion has been considered an issue which mainly affects the developing world. In fact, according to recent Mastercard research, over 130 million people are unbanked or underbanked across Europe.
When individuals and small businesses cannot participate in the financial system and as a result transact exclusively in cash, a significant amount of wealth is stored outside of the financial system, making credit scarce and expensive. Individuals and economic growth suffer.
In Europe, the financially excluded are not always those we think they are. Mastercard’s The road to inclusion 2016 study found that more than one in eight of the financially excluded have lived in the same country all their lives. A third is employed full time and 35% are aged 18-34.
As a socially responsible business, Mastercard recognises the role it can play in driving inclusive growth by addressing this challenge. Across the globe we are sharing our digital payments expertise with governments and others with the aim of reaching 500 million excluded people by 2020.
This is key as access to technology via smartphones among the financially excluded has increased significantly from 29% to 49% over the past 3 years and interest in mobile banking has more than doubled over the same period.
Business has a role to play, but governments must provide leadership. Encouragingly, steps are being taken at EU and national levels. In 2014, the EU adopted the Payment Accounts Directive, which aimed to achieve greater financial inclusion.
This translated into the right to a basic bank account – which is to be enshrined in national law across Europe. Basic current accounts must be guaranteed for every person in Europe.
By taking a lead on tackling exclusion and unlocking growth in this way, policy is likely to have a positive effect on people’s lives and government revenues.
The global digital economy is flourishing, and it relies on electronic payments to enable businesses, governments and individuals to connect. However, as an increasing number of services and consumers go digital the social and economic cost of financial exclusion is likely to increase exponentially if governments together with the private sector do not address this issue with speed.
PIcture credits: Low Jianwei
Making sure that labour markets are fair and function properly today and tomorrow is at the heart of the debate that is taking place across Europe. To succeed in the transition towards a digitalised economy, we need to improve our skills systems.
The world of work is transforming. Across Europe, many fear that increasing automation and digitally-powered business models will destroy jobs and put workers in a race against machines.
I believe however that digitalisation, if steered correctly towards our principle of social fairness, can be a force for better quality work, unleashing higher productivity and helping to finance more and better social security. Data shows that most of our workplaces have improved.
Many jobs have become more interesting and engaging. And, the share of workers receiving paid training grew from 26% to 38% in 10 years. Of course, this is essential because during the same period, the share of workers who declare that they face complex tasks at work increased by a corresponding 50%.
These additional opportunities are real – however, new forms of work can also be linked to lower and less predictable incomes. And while young people may be quick to embrace new flexible forms, they too – like the generations that came before – share the aspiration to progress towards stable careers and incomes that enable them to lead independent lives. We need to be alert to the risk of fragmented and unfair practices.
An immediate risk is the gap between ‘great jobs’ and ‘lousy jobs’. Automation and digitisation are likely to accelerate such polarisation.
To address these divides, we need to make our labour markets places where workers and employers feel safe to take risks. We need to support smooth transitions on the labour market, whether from job to job, to self-employment or to further training.
To succeed in transitions, we need to improve our skills systems. The Commission has put forward in the New Skills Agenda a proposal for better skills intelligence – understanding skills bottlenecks and anticipating needs, including through stronger business-education partnerships. Education needs to be more responsive to labour market needs.
Moreover, the European Commission’s work on a “European Pillar of Social Rights” is an important contribution to addressing challenges of the digital economy by trying to anticipate and influence new trends.
Is the European social model fit for purpose for the 21st century? And how can we make the European social model future-proof? Making sure that labour markets are fair and function properly today and tomorrow is at the heart of this debate that is taking place across Europe until the end of the year and I look forward to the European Young Innovators Forum’s contributions before I launch proposals next year!
The article was initially published on www.unconvention.eu.
Picture credits: Jan
The Digital Post spoke with Paul Chong, Director of Watson group at IBM, on the future of the popular supercomputer combining AI and sophisticated analytical software.
The Digital Post: What is the story behind IBM Watson?
Paul Chong: It all came about by chance in 2006, when a couple of guys were sitting in a pub watching a quiz show and they came up with the idea of taking on the champions of this show. Then, they started to look at the challenges.
At that point, we had a lot of experience and background in analyzing natural language programming and machine learning, so this opportunity came at the right time for us as well.
Eventually, we took it to the quiz show in 2011 and we were successful. By then we have had one million dollars and had already started to think about where we could apply the technology into different industries in a very transformational way, taking what is a lot of unstructured data and giving it some sense.
TDP: Apart from the health care sector, what are the other industries where IBM Watson is working on at the moment?
PC: We are present in 17 different industries right now, including financial services, where we’ve been typically involved with retail and utility companies.
Now we are trying to create a platform services for Watson AI machine, allowing a larger audience made up of users, developers, and startup entrepreneurs to use it for business purposes. The idea is to decompose the technology, provide it as a set of APIs, very easy to use, so that everyone can use it. What we’re trying to do is creating a really intuitive platform.
TDP: Where do you see Watson in five or even 10 years’ time?
PC: I think we’re going to see an evolution of those services, particularly in terms of numbers and quality of the services provided. For example, one of the big challenges with AI is the amount of time of supervised learning that you need to do. Supervised learning means that there is an intervention by humans to train the data and the models.
What you’ll start to see is a great improvement, namely less data will have to feed the system to teach it, and there will be less intervention from human beings. I also think services will become more intuitive to use so that businesses can take advantage of them by understanding the type of outcomes they want.
TDP: AI technologies, and computing technologies in general, are raising concerns about the impact they may have on employment.
PC: You have to look back in history in order to know what’s going to come in the future. Take the industrial revolutions for example. On various levels, we’ve always seen a situation where, as human beings, we’re very adaptable, and we start to find out what our new roles are going to be, how we are going to exist, and what work will look like in the future. We have always witnessed that humans eventually find another level to operate on.
We are now going through a cognitive age, which will require a great deal of adaptability. Governments will soon start thinking about it for the next generation. What type of training and education we are going to imagine for them? We should avoid training them to be working on machinery or doing certain mandate roles, such as accountancy, which, among others, will be automated within the next twenty years.
We have to start questioning ourselves and taking steps now. Regulators, governments and educators have to start thinking about what types of jobs are going to exist in the future, while companies and countries should focus on their competitive technology.
What are the best European inventions of 2016? A look at the eleventh edition of the European Inventor Awards organised by the European Patent Office.
It is called SAMBA and it is an instant blood diagnostic test providing low-cost, fast and easy-to-read results and allowing for on-the-spot detection of infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Chlamydia.
This is the invention that allowed British blood researcher Helen Lee to win one of the five European Inventor Awards 2016, in the Popular Prize category.
Launched by the European Patent Office in 2006, the Award has come to its eleventh edition, which was held on June 9th, 2016 at the MEO Arena in Lisbon, Portugal.
“I called it SAMBA Test because engineers like to dance, but it is also a name that people like, and sticks in the head,” says Ms. Lee, gifted with a delicate yet determined look. A frivolous name for an invention already in use in many Sub-Saharan African countries, where it helps tracking some of the world’s deadliest diseases by facilitating the diagnosis and anticipating access to care for thousands of people.
Together with Lee, the most voted finalist with 64% of the 56,000 opinions expressed online, the European Inventor Award in the SMEs category went to the Danish multidisciplinary team, formed by Tue Johannessen, Ulrich Quaade, Claus Hviid Christensen and Jens Kehlet Nørskov, who created a system to store ammonia that, through its solidification, is capable of reducing by 99% the emission of nitrogen monoxide from diesel engines, which causes over 75,000 deaths in Europe every year.
The Award in the Research category went to the French neurosurgeon Alim-Louis Benabid, who invented a system for treating Parkinson’s symptoms, while the one in the Industry category was won by the Germans Bernhard Gleich and Jürgen Weizenecker, inventors of a scheme for medical analysis based on magnetic particles.
The American engineer Robert Langer from MIT won the Non-European Countries category with its targeted anti-cancer medicines, while the Lifetime Achievement Award went to the German-Dutch engineer Anton van Zanten, who created the electronic stability system for cars that has been saving thousands of lives over the last few years.
“Today’s award ceremony – said EPO President Benoît Battistelli – is a tribute to the spirit of innovation and the work of dedicated individuals who, through their inventions, advance the state of the art for all of us.”
The contest involved five winners and fifteen finalists, who made it to the end of a selection that involved 400 inventions registered by the European Patent Office.
“We select the best innovations in the medicine, environment, social and industry field,” explains Mario Polegato, CEO of Geox and Chairman of the Jury of the European Inventor Award, “and we do so to stimulate the matter of the patent and convey the message that through an idea we can build a both economic and social fortune.”
“The first criteria we use – continues Polegato – is the originality of the innovation, then we assess how it can help people’s lives, not only in medicine field, but also in industry and environment. Finally, we try to determine what impact the innovation will have in the future.”
An innovation that could be part of our lives is the paper transistor, conceived by a couple of Portuguese scientists, Elvira Fortunato and Rodrigo Martins, finalists yet not winners in the Research category of this year’s edition of the Award.
“The paper transistor is simple and low-cost, a thousand times less expensive than silicon,” says Ms. Fortunato, the real inventor of the couple.
“We realize it with a printer whose toner has been replaced by the zinc oxide, a transparent and edible product that can be found in sunscreens as well as creams for children.”
The paper, being the insulating base of the transistor, passes in the printer, which imprints the zinc oxide that works both as conductor and semiconductor.
“We have already signed contracts with packaging companies. It is a perfect invention for the electronics of things, to create boxes of medicines that blow a whistle if you do not take a pill at the scheduled day and time, to build food containers that change colour if the product has gone bad, even before the due date, or print newspapers with graphical charts that move like in a video. Since these transistors can be digested, they might be part of the electronics of people in the future as well.” This invention did not win today, but it may have a brilliant future ahead of it.
photo credits: Jessica Lucia
Europe can still be a rather bumpy landscape for innovators, although innovators should learn to market better their achievements, argues Robert Madelin, Senior Adviser for innovation within the European Commission and former Director General at DG Connect.
The Digital Post: What are the major challenges facing the DSM strategy?
Robert Madelin: The Strategy itself identifies several challenges under its 16 actions. It’s also clear that some of the changes brought in by the Strategy will imply winners and losers. The main political challenge is whether we are ready to accept this because we care enough about improving our society.
RM: We have entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a period where everything is changing and evolving so fast that it is difficult to grasp what’s next. Under these circumstances, the successful strategies should go to the basics. The Digital Single Market strategy is precisely future-proof in this sense, since nobody knows what the future is. Delivering infrastructure, capacity, industrial transformations, skills awareness, cyber security while investing enough in research into Quantum, Big Data and 5G: This is a good portfolio effort. But it’s impossible to avoid taking risks in a period of big change. The Digital Single Market Strategy take such risks and it is likely that some of its actions will fail.
TDP: On 1st September 2015 you were appointed senior adviser for innovation within the European Commission. Jean-Claude Juncker tasked you with drafting a policy review on innovation in Europe. What can you tell about this report?
RM: I think the missing piece is often the recognition that research is a component of European innovation and competitiveness. Let me put this in figures: less than one euro in five spent by European companies on innovation is poured into research. Moreover, in some areas we don’t have a positive conversation about innovation. At European level we don’t have a conversation at all. What we have, instead, is little pockets of reaction to disruptive innovation.
This resistance to innovation may be legitimate or not, but it is difficult to act on it if we don’t have a proper debate. That’s why Europe can still be a rather bumpy landscape for innovators and that’s the problem we have to fix. The report should be released by the end of June.
TDP: So are you saying that Europe is not a positive environment for innovators?
RM: Let’s talk first about the environment in the world. In 2015 the communications firm Edelman carried out an extensive survey on innovation by interviewing tens of thousands people in a hundred countries.
What came out is that two out of three respondents understand that innovation is good for growth and jobs, but only one out of three think that innovation is doing something good for the planet as well as for their communities and families.
I believe this proves that innovators are marketing their intentions and achievements very poorly and that’s not true only in Europe. The same survey tells us that Europeans want innovation to primarily look at issues such as health, family, community, environment. The two things fit together.
Everybody wants innovations, and wants innovation to benefit the areas they care about. Therefore, the vision underlying the European approach to innovation is right: ‘responsible innovation’ is a key concept within our research programme Horizon 2020. That’s the theory. As far as the execution is concerned, we are beginning to learn.
Coming to your question, is the atmosphere positive for innovators? Not yet. Can it get better? Yes. Do we understand how to? I think so. Are we working on it? Yes.
TDP: Let’s switch to the telecom sector. What do you think should be the priorities of the upcoming review of the telecom framework?
RM: The reason to have a telecoms framework is systemic empty competitive mechanisms in the market. Now we have to revisit how far that’s a problem. We’ve already narrowed enormously the number of markets to which the regime applies.
The second question to ask is to what extent we need a framework. We still do because telecoms it’s a network industry. But how do we tune the framework to ensure the best possible supply of infrastructure? That’s a big problem that we haven’t fixed yet.
Of course, everybody has different views on the best answer to this. My personal view, having been for five years Director General of DG CONNECT at the European Commission, is that the theory of the ladder of investment doesn’t reach to fiber to the home.
If it doesn’t work, we need to apply another theory: Which means we might need to either invest more public money or structure differently the market in order to generate very high speed connectivity investment.
This is part of a series of interviews held during the conference "Digital Single Market: Bridging the Gap" organized by the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium. The event featured keynote speeches from Commissioner Oettinger Juhan Lepassaar and Robert Madelin (EPSC). Other speakers included senior EU officials, parliamentarians, trade bodies and business leaders who discussed the future challenges for business in the areas of fintech, e-health and industry 4.0.
Picture credits: Dennis Skley
With its Statement of Objections against Google on Android, the European Commission is rightly exercising its role as guardian of fair competition. Now it’s time for Member states to put in place a coordinated effort at EU level on the taxation of big tech companies.
“The European Union has the duty to ensure freedom of competition”, only by doing this we can “ensure the innovation that is necessary to the growth of our economy”.
These words from EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager lay out a basic principle that the Union has a responsibility to protect.
Fair competition and consumer protection translate into lower prices and greater choice for all EU citizens. In addition, they provide the basis for the creation of a single digital market in which European entrepreneurship can prosper.
To give just two examples: the cost of phone calls in Europe has been reduced considerably compared to ten years ago; and families and business are now able to freely choose their electricity and gas supplier.
On April 20, the EU published a Statement of Objections against Google in which it claimed that its “Internet search”, mobile operating system (Android) and app store management practices were contrary to European competition law.
Commissioner Vestager accused the US giant of promoting its products at the expense of its competitors, forcing smartphone producers willing to install the Android operating system to also install Google’s apps.
This despite the US company’s claim that “Android is an open-source operating system based on open innovation”.
In the past, the Union has been a strong guardian of fair competition, as in the two cases involving Microsoft (condemned for the lack of free choice related to its web browser and abuse of dominant position) and Intel (sanctioned in 2014 due to its market monopoly in a model of popular processors).
Given Google’s dominant position, it will be necessary to identify structural remedies, as happened in the past with telecom companies, Microsoft, and other players in similar conditions. We enjoy the results of these remedies every day, with these markets now fully competitive.
The EU must ensure pluralism in the market so that it can establish a fair level of competition. Only if the rules are the same for everyone will it be possible to give birth to large technology companies.
The new technologies field is particularly complex and delicate: its huge opportunities must be accompanied by major investments in research and technology.
Google covers approximately 90% of the smartphone operating system’s market thanks to Android.
Consequently, it can also dominate the app and online search markets (the two are crucial for advertising sales) as well as the market for videos thanks to Youtube.
This massive presence means the Mountain View-based company holds the largest share of the online advertising market.
Thinking about the incredible numbers that all this produces, we must also address the issue of the relation between large hi-tech companies and European tax agencies.
We are awaiting a European tax regulation: in the meantime, individual States are moving in a random order.
Google will pay the British treasury a £130 million bill in back taxes, a value that many analysts consider to be too low bearing in mind the amount owed since 2005. France has chosen a different path, seeking as much as €1.6 billion from Google in unpaid taxes.
What about Italy? Amidst disputes between tax authorities and the judiciary, as well as agreements rejected by the company, the government’s position remains unclear.
Picture credits: David Macchi
The European Commission’s strategy for “digitizing” industry that was unveiled today is a good step in the right direction. The digital industry will play its part but we need a business and policy environment that maximises our chances to take advantage of this opportunity.
In the build-up to last May’s unveiling of the Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy DIGITALEUROPE urged the European Commission to focus its efforts on preparing Europe’s economy for the digital transformation. This week’s package of initiatives does just that.
We are getting to the meat of the DSM, and not a minute too soon. Last month at our Masters of Digital event the final panel discussion involved speakers from agriculture, auto manufacturing and financial services, talking about how digital technology is already redefining their industries.
Just three years ago discussions about how drones and automated tractors can improve farmers’ efficiency, how 3D-printed car parts can help build cars tailored to local market conditions, or how a phone could replace a bank card would have sounded like science fiction. It involves science but it’s not fiction.
These are a few examples of how the digital transformation is already underway.
The technology package of initiatives unveiled today correctly identifies some of the core elements of the digital transformation.
And contrary to what some feared, it isn’t a rush to regulate. Instead, there are some pragmatic suggestions how Europe should make better use of the technologies on offer. Innovation in the areas of high-performance computing and cloud needs to be encouraged in an inclusive way.
The proposed “innovation hubs” are an excellent idea. To be truly effective they will need to be embraced by Europe’s business community. We’ve seen really great examples of this in some of Europe’s leading cities.
The focus on developing digital skills is also to be welcomed. It is important to ramp up efforts to ensure Europe has the digital skills we need to make the most of the digital opportunities. I would add that policy makers and educators themselves need training to appreciate the impact of new technologies.
The inclusive approach seen in the cloud initiative is also evident in the approach to ICT standardisation laid out by the Commission, with its emphasis on collaboration between public and private sectors. We have a unique opportunity to master digital for the benefit of all Europeans.
The digital industry will play its part but we need a business and policy environment that maximises our chances to take advantage of this opportunity. This week’s announcements by the Commission are a good step in the right direction.
DIGITALEUROPE wants two things for Europe; first, for us to get the best from digital – to have strong productive economies, efficient public services and citizens enjoying digital technologies as part of their daily lives.
And second we want Europe to be a great place for the digital sector – including DIGITALEUROPE’s members – to thrive and grow. Put simply – ours is a vision of a Europe that has mastered digital.
We see around us everyday the great promise that digital technology offers. We watch the transformation of great European businesses. We hear about new tech, and tech-driven businesses growing and thriving, and we see the increasing attractiveness of many European cities and regions to investors.
But are we doing enough to harness the potential of digital technologies?
DIGITALEUROPE measures the DSM elements against a set of principles we think are pre-requisites to achieving our vision – the masters of digital vision. They include the following:
– Does the initiative take us towards a single market fit for the digital age? Does it break down national silos?
– Will it encourage innovation and entrepreneurship?
– Is the initiative simply shielding the status quo from change? For example, by protecting an incumbent industry or national icon, or trying to protect jobs threatened by technological progress or just new fair competition?
– Are new rules really needed or could existing rules be used more effectively? And if they are needed have the policymakers designed them in the least burdensome, and most straightforward way possible?
– Does the initiative recognise the global nature of digital? If so will it encourage European companies and citizens to want access to products, services and customers from around the globe? And will it allow European businesses to take advantage of a global approach to standards?
– Finally, and most important of all, will the DSM encourage economic growth and the creation of good quality European jobs?
This week’s announcements appear to uphold these principles. The emphasis on collaboration with industry that runs through all the separate elements of the technology package bodes well for Europe’s on-going digital transformation, and its ability to boost growth and create jobs in the digital age.
Picture credits: Lukas Budimaier
In order to boost to the creation of smart cities across the EU, we need a clearly defined European ‘smart city model’. The creation of such a model should be the next step in claiming our own European ‘smart city identity’.
In the past decade, the Internet has grown exponentially. And the best is yet to come: gradually, the Internet is evolving into a true ‘Internet of Things’ in which nearly all objects that surround us (cars, household appliances, light bulbs, etc.) will be connected.
As such, the foundation is laid for the creation of ‘smart cities’ in which tens of thousands of sensors and connected devices will optimize the way in which we live and work.
Smart cities are emerging all over the world. In Asia and the Middle East, some are even built from scratch. Noteworthy examples are the South Korean city of Songdo (a prestigious $35 billion project of which the first phase has been delivered last year) and the planned Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates.
At the other side of the world, smart cities such as San Francisco are seeing a boost in ‘bottom-up’ smart city developments – with private companies such as Uber (smart mobility), Airbnb (smart tourism) and Google’s Sidewalk Labs (city Wi-Fi hubs) pushing the uptake of smart service platforms.
At both ends of this spectrum (from greenfield projects in Asia to commercial initiatives in the US) quite some buzz is created – which leads many people to believe that not much is happening in Europe.
In order to correct that perception and to give a boost to the creation of smart cities in Europe, we need a clearly defined European ‘smart city model’ as well as the proper research methodologies and financial incentives to help mitigate part of the implementation risks.
Smart cities go beyond ‘top-down’ or ‘bottom-up’ platforms
While ambitious initiatives such as the Songdo project generate lots of interest and are perfect marketing vehicles to attract investments and expertise, they tend to ignore what smart cities are really about: a smart city is not just a prefab machine crammed with the latest technologies; it is a city that lifts quality of life to a totally new dimension by responding to people’s actual needs.
Also, initiatives such as Songdo tend to contract with one major technology consortium which is then responsible for the city’s backbone, its operations center and the definition of the major end-user services. It is clear, though, that one corporate provider can never provide the variety of services needed in a vibrant, dynamic city.
At the other side of the world, in the US, ‘bottom-up’ developments lead to commercial smart city offerings that are well-received by end-users. Yet, the emergence of such powerful corporate platforms that disrupt and replace public services, but that are not accountable to citizens, has also raised a number of concerns.
Already, objections against the ‘exploitation’ of public resources by these new smart city platforms have been voiced.
The European smart city model: putting users’ needs and creativity at the center stage
European cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona, Helsinki and Vienna have clearly understood this, and are successfully reinventing themselves – in collaboration with their citizens. They have embraced a model that could be referred to as the ‘City as a Platform’ (CAAP).
In this model, the public authority remains in the lead of smart city developments, gathering around itself a whole ecosystem of start-ups, SMEs, large firms, non-profits and citizens to jointly create smart cities.
Yet, in spite of those efforts, a formally-defined European smart city model that could easily be picked up by other European stakeholders does not yet exist. The creation of such a model should be the next step in claiming our own European ‘smart city identity’.
At the basis of the European smart city model should be the so-called ‘quadruple helix’ – bringing together government, citizens, academia and industry to build smart cities in a way that combines the advantages of the top-down approach (safeguarding public interests) with bottom-up steered creativity.
For public organizations to remain a central stakeholder in this process – all while putting citizens’ needs center stage – they need to implement an actual Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) role for cities. The European model of Living Labs, where users and producers are brought together on a neutral platform to co-create and test innovations, is ideal for this.
The European model could thus overcome some important shortcomings of the American and Asian initiatives, securing the upfront buy-in from the people that will actually have to live, work and have fun in tomorrow’s smart cities.
At the same time, living lab research also allows us to tap directly into citizens’ own creative and valuable ideas, once again securing their buy-in and enthusiasm as they actually become smart city co-creators. Such an approach would make the European smart city model really stand out; all elements are there, we just need to formalize, operationalize and upscale them!
European incentives to help mitigate smart city implementation risks
Obviously, next to the central role of the users, financial considerations come into play too when building a smart city. Today, innovation support to mitigate risk is mainly granted to very immature technologies.
Yet, in a smart city context, risk not only resides in technology development, but also in its implementation. While the European Commission has started to acknowledge this, national innovation agencies are still often clinging to old techno-push frameworks.
In order to make the European CAAP model work, it is critically important that we continue to adapt our innovation programs to this new reality.
On the one hand, we need to help smart city partners leverage Europe’s experience in living lab research methodologies (through the European Network of Living Labs, for instance) to make sure implementation of new technologies is done first time right; and on the other hand, new measures are required to helping them mitigate the financial risk of smart city deployments too.