Digital society: how do we manage digitalization?

With the rapid development of AI, the digitization of the world has gone into turbo mode. And it is very difficult to predict where it will all lead. What is clear, however, is that while digitization can bring a lot to the world, it can also have a negative impact on society if used incorrectly. And of course this is even more true if companies, states or individuals purposefully use digital technology to do harm with it. So new policies are urgently needed to limit the negative effects of digital developments. How? TNO Vector's Digital Society team helps policymakers find appropriate answers.

Need to actively adjust

It is always difficult to estimate in advance the actual effects of new technology. But at this time when generative AI has made its way to the general public, it is clear that this development is going to substantially change our society.

Indeed, we are already in the middle of that transformation process. And yes, Europe is working hard on regulations to curb AI and other advanced digital technologies to some extent. But with these kinds of developments, legislation is always well behind the times. So more is needed. And soon. But what exactly? And how do we organize that?

The struggle of policymakers

Parties engaged in digital innovation are quick to use the argument that regulation negatively impacts their ability to innovate. But without proper guardrails, you see that digital innovations can quickly lead to undesirable situations. For example, by collecting unsolicited data from users and reselling it. So it is searching for the right balance.

Meanwhile, all sorts of things are already happening to gain more insight into the problem. For example, mathematical models are being developed, impact analyses made and structured interviews conducted with creators and users of digital technology. All this in order to predict as accurately as possible what the impact of certain legislation will be, without getting caught up in the hype.

TNO Vector is one of the parties actively collecting and analyzing this kind of data. And for policy makers, that provides interesting information. But that doesn't mean it really gets any easier for them. Because how do you arrive at the right decision based on all that information and competing interests?

What is the exact impact?

When it comes to the impact of technology on society, we must remember that society is made up of many different groups. In doing so, it is also not the case that the impact of a digital technology is felt evenly across society. Thus, to get a complete picture, we need to take a broader perspective and, when considering the effects of digitization, also look closely at what it means for different groups.

To further complicate matters, we see that digitization leads to societal changes, and societal changes in turn lead to a new view of digitization. That interaction makes it very complex. Meanwhile, digital technology is so advanced that it requires not only legal frameworks, but also guidelines in terms of ethics. And that is difficult to program.

Bringing different stakeholders together

Achieving broad agreement on ethical, legal and societal aspects requires close cooperation of all stakeholders. In the field of AI, interesting initiatives have already been developed in the Netherlands that not only involve government, industry, and educational and research institutions, but also actively involve civil society organizations and citizens.

They are jointly looking at the extent to which AI can be used in a reliable and people-oriented way to tackle specific social problems. There is also an increasing focus on efficient cooperation between humans and machines. In all this, TNO is also very active, in particular through the APPL.AI program.

An independent party that oversees the whole

But doesn't it take much longer to reach solutions when many parties are involved? That remains to be seen. Because if a digital technology has not been developed in a careful manner, there is a good chance that such a solution will later have to be modified because of European legislation.

Actively involving all stakeholders involved in the development of a digital technology is also always a challenge. And here, as an independent party, we see a role for ourselves. To begin with, by shaping such a consultation. After all, if that is not done properly, it quickly becomes chaos.

It helps that as TNO Vector we not only look at the technological side of innovations, but also at the entire playing field in which such an innovation is created and what is needed to move an innovation forward as carefully as possible.

Want to know more about what TNO Vector can do when it comes to policy issues related to digitization?