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Making space for a non-technocratic vision for Europe

The ambitious goal of the Next Generation Internet initiative launched by the European Commission in 2016 is to support the development of a human-centric internet. In the words of Roberto Viola, DG Connect General Director, the human internet “should be designed for humans, so that it can meet its full potential for society and economy and reflect the social and ethical values that we enjoy in our societies.” The values promoted are European ones, such as openness, inclusivity and equality.

The definition is broad, but it serves the objective well: Intuitively, we all know what is at stake. The “commercial internet” visions dominate the development, and the “human internet” vision has become hampered by commercial successes and an excess of naivety among consumers and policymakers. Europe is emerging as a global regulatory superpower, and this is likely to be its main role in the geopolitical theatre in the coming years. But the visions for a “human internet” must not only be defensive; these visions must create spaces for creativity and imagination and open new possibilities for businesses and citizens to thrive without it being at each other’s expense. Otherwise, the “human” and “for the common good” extensions – increasingly present in conferences, products and policies slogans – risk becoming the public image of just another form of radical surveillance and disempowerment in disguise as frictionless services.

In order to gather the most impactful group of constituencies in a community, build a shared vision, inspire policymaking and stream- line possible alternatives, the NGI Move project toured Europe (and the world) with 80 salons and co-creation workshops, reaching over 5,000 people. The events aimed at rethinking the internet’s assumed functioning (in terms of technology, governance, sustainability, values, citizens’ agency) and debating existing and desirable alternatives. The discussions were held with policymakers, engineers, artists, researchers, start-uppers, investors, cryptographers and students ranging from middle school to PhD, just to name a few. The project also launched the NGI Awards, rewarding excellence in the domains of research, start-ups and culture: The eight winners range from communities advocating for a novel personal data paradigm, to open source encrypted software, to researchers exploring gerontechnologies.

Public programme names, technology trends and decision-makers come and go. But in our discussions with a very diverse set of experts and citizens, some requirements and concerns emerged together with a strong sense of urgency. This publication com- piles them and presents a conceptual framework for rethinking how Europe engages with a reality permeated by interconnected technologies. Spoiler: It is not a matter of technology alone. In the first part, Policies of everyday Europe, we go past the distressing dichotomy technology/society to highlight changes in the very structure of reality and subject creation: We thus propose novel concepts to steer the European ecosystem in a way that better serves the collective interest. In the section Conversations on a probable future, the proposal is supported by interviews hinting to a novel ecology and to the civic role of experts and citizens in getting there. Renegotiating the present: Rebooting the system from a Millennials’ perspective reads the current situation with the lenses of the generation between the analogue and the digital world, the Millennials.

In the coming years, we need to work on infrastructures and visions of society in order to create a common ground for action. We do not lack the technological means; what we lack is a coordinated approach balancing regulation, experiments and citizens’ engagement. Acknowledging the impossibility of tackling the current complex situation from one single perspective becomes our biggest resource to kick-start a European movement of citizens and professionals, each differently engaged in ensuring a desirable outcome for what looks like the last moment in history where humans are fully in control.

Attached Files

NGI Move Book - A Better PlaceDownload