So far, policy in the UK and many other countries has not moved in this direction. Innovation policy is primarily about big companies, top universities and research centres. These will inevitably dominate. The idea of a fourth industrial revolution has been in play for 20 years. It usually refers to a convergence and interpenetration of digital technologies, bio, nano, info and things. On the present trajectory, the 4IR promises great benefits. But it also risks leading to a widening divide between vanguards and the rest, accelerating job destruction ahead of job creation; and introducing potentially big threats to personal privacy and cybersecurity.
Dialectics + Technological Innovation
Most of the investment and inputs that are shaping the development of 4IR technologies are coming from the military and traditional industries, and some of the most visible ideas associated with the 4IR reflect the problem that so many resources are spent addressing trivial needs rather than fundamental ones symbolised by fridges that tell you when you need to buy more milk and juice.
So how could this path be shifted? How could the benefits of extraordinary new technological possibilities be spread more widely? How could many more people have the opportunity to be makers and shapers, entrepreneurs and innovators of this revolution, rather than passive observers?
Some of the answers lie in using the powerful new platforms of the 21st century to use resources far more efficiently. The existing sharing economy models point the way: not just the commercial variants like Uber and AirBnB but also many more citizen owned ones like Peerby and Streetbank, or the cooperatives being promoted in Bologna. In principle, platforms of this kind can greatly increase utilisation rates across society and the economy — mobilising not just things land, buildings, vehicles but also people in more efficient ways.
But to get there requires fresh thinking about regulation, about supply chains, taxation and law. But the promise is an economy that can create value, and opportunities, for many more people than before. The most problematic part of the current situation is the stagnation of democracy: the view that all politicians are corrupt and self-interested. This fuels the passive anger of electorates, who then revert to faith in populist leaders as the solution to disempowerment.
The alternative is to reshape democracy so that it does provide more genuine power to citizens. The project provides free, open source tools that enable citizens to be kept informed on the subjects that matter to them eg when their local council or parliament is debating a topic ; allow them to propose and debate ideas and legislation; and provide voting opportunities and scrutiny of implementation.
There are many similar examples around the world. Better Reykjavik has had hundreds of thousands of users — proposing and voting on improvements to the public realm. Paris has a large participatory budgeting scheme, as does Portugal at a national level. Taiwan has shown how many more people can be brought rapidly into decision-making. The best of these schemes make government more like a collaborative, reflective process of deliberation rather than a permanent referendum. They have the virtue of not only involving the public but also educating them along the way, so, for example, the trade-offs of any decision can be made clear.
Reforms to upgrade democracy must be part of the new synthesis too, as a counter to the trends towards a democracy built around spin, deceit and bluster. The Internet and world wide web were born out of the hope that they could, in the words of Tim Berners Lee, be for everyone. An open, free and shared resource. Power has been consolidated in a very small number of commercial firms.
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Amazon intermediates our relationship to products; Facebook our friendships; Google our relationship to information. But such consolidation of power is problematic in all sorts of ways. We have very little control over our own data. How can citizens control more of the data that matters to them? How can these great new infrastructures be more accountable?
My paper on new data commons sets out some of the potential answers in more detail. Feelings of loss of control have had a big influence on the drive to populist authoritarianism. Many people feel that they have no control over migration; that their communities and places have been taken away from them. Democracy means a community having control over who is welcomed in and on what terms.
But the more ardent advocates of the thesis often sought to override democracy — and treated free movement as an absolute principle, even though in practice it has always been qualified. We know a lot about what makes people belong. All humans are well designed to read the feedback messages from their environment about whether they are at home or not. We can spot whether the labour market can offer jobs to people like us; whether politics speaks in our language; whether public culture reflects our values and interests; or whether policing and other public services reflect our needs. This paper on belonging — and the practical ways it can be nurtured — provides some practical pointers for local and national governments.
The new synthesis will have to include more overt democratic control over the terms of migration: who comes and on what terms, whether as worker, student, tourist or patient. Democracies can — and should — choose to be generous to refugees and attend to the suffering of the world. But the key is that these have to be choices consciously made, not imposed from outside.
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To achieve ambitious goals and restore trust, government itself needs to be upgraded. One of the disappointing features of the current wave of authoritarian populists is that they appear to have few, if any, ideas about how to improve the machinery of government — and often want to turn the clock back.
Yet this is a time when almost every aspect of government can be improved: changing how they use intangible resources like data, information and knowledge; using money in more creative ways; tapping into public expertise to shape and adapt policy. Our recent paper on collective intelligence showed some of the tools being used by governments around the world — and a far more attractive future picture for government than posturing populism. An important example of revamped government can be found in the new options for bold action to create fundamental infrastructures that make life easier for their citizens.
In recent years, infrastructures have been privatised, broken up and regulated, sometimes successfully and sometimes at a high cost. But there are many infrastructural roles that only government can perform, and over the next few years we may see much more activism as this is recognised. Now in use by well over a billion people, it has massively opened up financial services for the very poor.
It also appears to be cutting corruption of all kinds and is experienced as empowering. Countries such as Singapore and Denmark have created personal accounts for citizens, making possible much more creative ways of providing welfare. Both the UID and these ideas offer a potential future in which governments can offer much more flexible kinds of welfare — lending money for a first home, new skills, university degrees, with repayments through the tax system spread over a full working life. Done right, these can greatly enhance freedom, economic security and feelings of power.
These are just a few building blocks of what could become new syntheses. They are far from comprehensive. There will also need to be more attention to tax — including fairer taxation of business and wealth to respond to class and generational imbalances. We may also need to return to the role of the state as employer of last resort, though the challenge will be to create work that has respect and dignity. Cybersecurity is bound to become more visible as an issue.
A Reflection on the Dialectic Synthesis
And overhanging everything may be a more aggressive geopolitical climate, with more direct attacks by nations such as Russia on the institutions of the democratic west. But this is the serious work that must start. It requires us to think dialectically, achieving a balance between conflicting ideas, rather than taking them to their logical conclusions, the consistent mistake of the more extreme partisans of globalisation. It also requires us to reject the opposite option - simply caving into ugly, regressive ideas which are at odds with the best values of tolerance, enlightenment and compassion.
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What do you do, Sir? The big question is who will adapt quickest to this new reality. With the labour market changing rapidly as technology impacts workers, building a strong evidence base for adult learning is essential. Quantum computing, creating inclusive teams, and government-startup collaboration.
Thinking, Teaching, Technology by @vanweringh
Financial inclusion. Future of work and skills. Here he studied philosophy and classics for two years and graduated in Though he then took the theological course, he was impatient with the orthodoxy of his teachers; and the certificate given to him when he left in states that, whereas he had devoted himself vigorously to philosophy, his industry in theology was intermittent.
He was also said to be poor in oral exposition, a deficiency that was to dog him throughout his life.
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