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The Internet, once heralded as driving the third industrial revolution, is now so firmly sewn into the fabric of our daily lives that we usually take it for granted. Virtually everything we do from travelling, to shopping, to paying taxes, is in some way facilitated by online products and services.
With the explosion of the Internet of Things, multimedia content and social media, the Internet offers an unprecedented access to data and online services. Artificial intelligence helps to extract meaning from this data and to embed autonomy and intelligence into networks, connected objects and services. This promises to revolutionise healthcare, public services, transport, finance - to name just a few sectors.
Yet, as technological advances upgrade what the Internet can do, there is no matching increase in the trust people place in the Internet. On the contrary, such trust, which is one of the pillars of technology acceptance, has eroded in recent years.
There are reasons for it: online transactions remain subject to hacking and security flaws, the personal data of end-users have been used in inappropriate ways, and the risk remains of dominant companies distorting the market or blithely ignoring the human and wider social implications of their products, services, and business models.
Also, one of the biggest strengths of the Internet, a free speech platform where virtually anyone can publish content, has now its downside: the spread of disinformation by accident or misinformation by design, which may, in extreme cases, impinge upon democracy and social cohesion.
With half of humanity already accessing the Internet, and Europeans spending an average of seven hours a day online, it is a matter of urgency to invest time and resources into shaping a better Internet, for us and for future generations.