A vision of what good looks like

Too much of the public debate on technology is about the harms of social media and technology in general. We also have to say what we think technology should be like to be good. Many of these things must be discussed in great detail, but I just wanted to state in a few points what my current thinking is on this.

I think of four pillars of technology for a that are important for future societies:

  • Respect and empowerment of individuals
  • A public sphere with empowered collective action by communities
  • A sociotechnological landscape that is regulable
  • Commercial opportunities at any scale for everyone

Now, to detail these:

Respect and empowerment of individuals

  • Individuals, by virtue of being citizens of societies, are respected as a basic autonomous agent.
  • Individuals are unimpeded in their pursuit of knowledge as knowledge is the basis for their ability to act as an autonomous agent.
  • Individuals are empowered to create technology, literal and artistic works.
  • Individuals have the right to be connected to digital networks.
  • Individuals have the right to digital identities that can be used in online ecosystems.
  • Individuals have the right to basic data management facilities online.
  • Individuals have the right to possess devices in which they can place their ultimate trust.
  • Individuals have the right to information security.

A public sphere with empowered collective action by communities

People do not thrive in privacy alone, we are first and foremost social. Sometimes, they want to be left alone, but sometimes, they want to go in public and wear a smile. Sometimes, they need somebody’s support for their cries. Sometimes, they want to find a pleasant beach to relax, sometimes they want to find a mountain to challenge themselves. Sometimes, they want to discuss matters of importance to them, sometimes they want to organize an event for a select group of friends, sometimes for a large crowd. The public sphere must encompass all these human endeavors, i.e. they are “societal scale technologies”. Technologies developed only for democratic debate or only for gathering a group of friends are unlikely to succeed, the vision must be so universal it can host the entire public sphere.

  • Positive social relationships and enhanced social cohesion should be key design goals.
  • Democracies should develop technologies to enhance democratic processes.
  • Technologies should promote establishment of epistemic commons.
  • Citizens should have the possibility to interact with government services through digital interfaces but must not leave any citizen behind because they may not wish or be able to do so.
  • Communication between parties in a community must be secured.
  • Communities must have technologies to help establish trust between different parties. They must do so without compromising the ultimate trust individuals have in their devices.
  • Technologies should support the formation and sound interaction between groups and within groups that forms on a permanent or ad hoc basis for social interactions.

A sociotechnological landscape that is regulable

Centralisation of power by technology companies has led to a situation where democracies do not have sufficient knowledge to regulate technology development sufficiently.

  • Enabling individuals to unimpededly seek knowledge to open technologies can shift the power balance towards gaining regulability in democracies.
  • Democracies need to form governmental institutions to set norms through developing technologies for citizens using technologists in close collaboration with cross-disciplinary teams.
  • Democracies will develop new frameworks to guide detailed technological development.  
  • Through these institutions, open technology projects can be governed in collaboration with private companies in greater detail than today.
  • Technology acceptance is driven by individuals who find that virtuous cycles emerge with technologies designed with positive social relationships in mind.
  • Pluralism is a cornerstone, helped by decentralised architectures and that normative technology development institutions are commonly supported by national governments.
  • However, decentralisation should support societal goals, and is not a goal in itself.
  • Technology should support communities in regulating and sanctioning undesired behaviour and an effective and scalable manner, so that law enforcement isn’t overwhelmed. 

Commercial opportunities at any scale for everyone

  • Architectures should be designed so that individuals are empowered over providers of digital infrastructure.
  • Architectures should be designed so that the distribution of usage of different systems is gently sloped.
  • When citizens assume the role of consumer, they should be empowered to make their requirements clear, so that businesses can develop products with a clear market fit and reduce the need for marketing in the form of advertisements.
  • Payment systems should be standardised so that payments of even small size can be made over networks with low risk of fraud.
  • eCommerce should enable societies to transparently collect taxes to encourage development of society as a whole.

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