Technology has always been part of our society. Just consider the first roads on which we travelled and the abacus, the first known calculator. The logic of zeros and ones that is used to create, transfer or control information is now an integral part of our digital society. In 1945, the first programmable electronic digital ENIAC computer was developed in the US. And – a nice detail – it was programmed by six female programmers. International artificial intelligence developments have had their share of peaks and troughs, where at times the subject has or has not been considered important. As such, the issues that technology – and AI in particular – raises are not new. What is new, however, is that technology (and digitalization in general, AI in particular) is increasingly interfering with our daily lives. So, what are our thoughts on that?
In early 2019, after a trip to the US and some information from Asia, I wrote an article that was published by Innovation Origins. The main question was: “What type of society do we want to be here in the Netherlands and keep on being?” There was no textual or visual focus in the media at the time on AI. Nor on its impact on our society, even though that seems inconceivabe nowadays.
These questions nowadays seem to be voiced by a lot of parties, all over Europe. And that’s a good thing. Because ‘whoever asks, leads.‘ It is precisely by encouraging dialogue about technology and specifically AI that we keep our ears to the ground and have a greater understanding of the different speeds that digitalization is taking place within society. This is when we can (metaphorically speaking) collectively stick a thermometer into society. Education is also promoted that way and hopefully we are becoming increasingly more media savvy to boot. Developments follow each other in rapid succession. Not only in the field of AI. But also because we are demanding ever greater speeds in the processing of information.
The miniaturization of electronic chips is following Moore’s Law to the letter. Market demand is pushing this up a notch. Also, in addition to electronic chips, there is increasing demand for photonic chips. This is where light rather than an electronic connection becomes the carrier of information. Also consider innovations in nanotechnology and lightweight materials. As well as the way in which these communicate with each other in a ‘smart’ way. All of these applications are important to our daily lives. For example, in terms of our health and how it helps us, and our daily transportation choices, and consequently the mobility issue in our small crammed country.
Back in 2019, I was invited to participate in roundtable discussions at VNO-NCW on the role of AI in the Netherlands. This event also saw the launch of the Dutch AI Coalition. My guiding principles have always been the values Trust and Collaboration. It was an honour for me to help set up and contribute to the Dutch AI Coalition’s building block “Human Centric AI“. Members of the Dutch AI Coalition pointed out that a specific focus area ‘Dialogue on AI‘ was, and is, necessary. After all, many organizations in the Netherlands will soon face questions about AI not only from their customers and business relations, but also from their own employees. Companies want to learn from each other about how ethical design principles are applied. And how human beings can remain in charge.
Topics that still seem strange to us are cropping up now. To name one example: If a government agency has set up and used an algorithm in a procedure, and further on, a person suddenly turns out to be no longer eligible for special care as a result. should their lawyer then sue the governmental algorithm…? We may chuckle. But really, it is reality, read all about it on MIT.
What’s more, will an algorithm really guarantee that the Dutch bridge that you drive over every day will automatically signal when the composite fibers are no longer strong enough, so that the replacement process will be started and the bridge will not suddenly collapse?
Digitalization and the Dutch
These are topics that concern me, but at the same time also make me happy. What opportunities technology, and digitalization in particular are able to offer our fine Dutch society! In recent years, Innovation Origins wrote a lot about the role of AI in society. The Dutch-language De Dataloog also made a series of podcasts to highlight a variety of standpoints, and by no means just the scientific ones. After all, encouraging dialogue about technology (and AI) is important. We know that technology affects our lives, but what are our dreams and fears about it all?
Personally, I would like us to be a society where people can have their say, and where technology is not imposed from above. This brings me to the blanket concept of democracy. Ten years ago, in response to the works of artist Oliver Ressler at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, I wrote about the role of art in our democracy. One of his video works is titled ‘What is Democracy?‘ The conclusion, obviously, is that each country interprets the concept of ‘democracy’ differently, and that we still haven’t found the ultimate interpretation. So, what is the best interpretation of democracy that we can come up with for the Netherlands? Political parties and their politics? And how do we manage to uphold what is good?
With the elections coming up, it is important that we vote for people who understand technology as well as the role of technology and digitalization in society. Do we have enough people in the Dutch House of Representatives who understand how technology impacts our lives? Who understand our dreams and fears and will give us a voice in legislative proposals? Much has been written about the power of Big Tech, online privacy, fake news … But how are political parties actually planning to deal with it all?
Election selection guide
The Dutch Foundation for the Future of Technology (STT) published the Technologie Kieswijzer (Technology Election Selection Guide) this week. A neat, concise tool to gain an overview and have an impact on our voting behavior. Because we all know that there are not enough people with detailed understanding of technology and digitalization in our House of Representatives. So, if you can read Dutch, try it out.
Nevertheless, the question for the Dutch media is: What is your game plan here? Are you setting the agenda and highlighting these challenges? Or are you just following along while keeping your ear to the ground? I hope you are doing both.