Tag Archives: innovation

#GovAfterShock: our digital future

In my research, I tend to focus more on the present than on the future. After all, I’m a sociologist, not a futurist. However, the present can tell us a lot about the future: our plans today indicate the future we are anticipating; our dreams today describe the future we are hoping for; our actions today contribute to creating the future that will be.

I’m not only a sociologist, but also a Internet researcher. The annual conference of AoIR (the Association of Internet Researchers), which has taken place during the past days and revived me to a point I am not able to put in words yet, was a stark reminder of that.

As society is, increasingly, also digital, so is our focus on digital futures: the ones we fear, the ones we create, and the ones we desire.

Following the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020, the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation has created a global initiative called Government After Shock, inviting a global conversation on what we can learn from the COVID-19 crisis, what we want to keep, what we want to leave behind, and what we want do differently. The Bern University of Applied Sciences, together with Flux Compass (Hong Kong), contribute to #GovAfterShock with a workshop on the topic of Trust across borders.

The workshop on Nov 11, 2020, will invite us to stop and think about what we can learn from the COVID-19 crisis, and how we want to go forward with respect to our digital future. Its goal is to co-create a message to governments on the future we desire.

Organized and hosted by Angelina Dungga and Anna Simpson, the event includes two keynote inputs, one by Séverine Arsène and one by yours truly. I’m really excited about Dr. Arsène’s talk, because she will propose three directions for reflection, around concepts of scope, pace, and method: How much of our futures do we want to be digital? How fast, or slow, do we need to move towards our digital futures? And what kind of democratic procedures will ensure that we get the digital futures that we want?

In my own talk, I will present existing phenomena to show that people express their values and preferences in many ways. As I have already stated for this article on the Forum for the Future: To include civil society in policy-making also means actively accounting for the values and preferences of people whose voice may not usually be heard. I will therefore present some examples of what can we learn from today about a future that is desirable for civil society.

Because the future is, supposedly, already here, just not evenly distributed.

Technology, innovation and society: five myths debunked

Recently, I held a lecture about the digital transformation for the franco-swiss CAS/EMBA program in e-tourism. The tourism industry not being my specialty, and the “social media” aspects having been thoroughly covered by colleagues,Media Technology old and new I had been specifically asked to convey a big picture view.

I chose to address some overall issues related to ICT (information & communication technology), innovation and society by debunking the following five myths:

  1. Ignoring the digital transformation is possible
  2. Technological progress is linear
  3. Connectivity is a given
  4. Virtual vs. “real” life
  5. Big Data – the answer to all our questions

Each of these points would deserve an treatise on its own, and I will not be able to go into much details in the scope of this article. I nevertheless wanted to share some of the links and references mentioned during my lecture and related to these issues. If you prefer reading the whole thing in French, please go to Enjeux technologiques et sociaux: cinq idées reçues à propos du numérique, which is the corresponding (but not literally translated) article in French.

Myth no. 1: Ignoring the digital transformation is possible

While discussions of online social networks have become mainstream, the digital transformation goes way beyond social media. It is about more than visible communication. It is about automation, computation, and algorithms. And as I have written before: algorithms are more than a technological issue because they involve not only automated data analysis, but also decision-making. In 1961 already, C.P. Snow said:

«Those who don’t understand algorithms, can’t understand how the decisions are made.»

In order to illustrate the vastness of computation and algorithmic automation I mentioned Frédéric Kaplan’s information mushroom (“champignon informationnel”), my explorations of Google Autocomplete, as well as the susceptibility of a job to be made redundant in the near future by machine learning and mobile robotics (cf. this scientific working paper, or the interactive visualisation derived from it).

Myth no. 2: Technological progress is linear

This point included a little history including sociology of knowledge and innovation studies.

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[French] Enjeux technologiques et sociaux: 5 idées reçues à propos du numérique

Exceptionally, this article is in French. English speaking readers might want to head over to Technology, innovation and society: five myths debunked.

Cet article esquisse mon intervention dans un module de formation EMBA / CAS il y a quelques jours. Le but était de sensibiliser les participants aux enjeux des technologies de l’information comme sources d’innovations majeures et de les rendre attentifs à quelques enjeux sociaux des TIC. Afin qu’un tour d’horizon aussi vaste soit un tant soit peu digeste, j’ai décidé de le présenter en cinq chapitres qui démontent certaines idées reçues à propos du numérique:

  1. Il est possible d’ignorer le numérique
  2. Le progrès technologique est linéaire
  3. La connectivité est un acquis
  4. Il y a le virtuel et il y a la “vraie vie”
  5. Les “big data”: la solution à tout

En voici ci-dessous la présentation, et ensuite quelques phrases explicatives avec liens/références.

La présentation:

Idée reçue no. 1: Il est possible d’ignorer le numérique

Le domaine du numérique est souvent considéré uniquement dans une perspective communication/marketing, une perspective parfois réduite aux seuls sujets des sites web et des réseaux sociaux en ligne. Et alors qu’il est possible pour une entreprise notamment de se passer d’une page facebook en toute cohérence avec sa stratégie, il n’en est pas de même avec la dynamique et l’évolution numérique au sens large. Ce parce que la révolution numérique ne concerne de loin pas que les “social media”. Elle comprend toute sorte d’automatisation algorithmique. Une citation parlante à ce sujet a été dit par C.P. Snow en 1961 déjà et je l’avais reprise dans un billet précédent (en anglais) il y a deux ans et demi:

«Those who don’t understand algorithms, can’t understand how the decisions are made.»

Illustrant quelques enjeux d’automatisation algorithmique, j’ai mentionné le “champignon informationnel” de Frédéric Kaplan, mes explorations de Google Autocomplete, et les calculs de la “probabilité de remplaçabilité” d’un emploi (provenant d’un working paper scientifique, transformés en visualisation interactive) grâce aux avancées dans les domaines du machine learning et de la robotique mobile.

Idée reçue no. 2: Le progrès technologique est linéaire

Pour ce point, une petite plongée dans la sociologie de la connaissance et de la technologie:

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