Recently the European Commission has launched the Online Initiative, officially presented the 8th of February in Brussels. I was there, and I want to share same ideas that swarmed around during the lively discussions we had.
It was Robert Madelin, the Director-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, who opened the session and revealed a marvellous chair during the whole day: he briefly added a note to the panelists, so to encourage us, the participants, to give our thoughts. The presentation of the Onlife Manifesto was done by Luciano Floridi, who took a little walk on the (wild?) side of the Manifesto, which is a result of a collective work of 13 scholars devoted to Computing & Philosohpy (download it here to have a glance).
The essential metaphor was the estuary, where a river meets the sea: there, we cannot be sure if water is salty or still trinkable: the real world is the sea, while the virtual world is the river. We live more and more in an interactive environment, where the traditional distinctions (e.g., real/virtual, human/machine/nature) do not stand anymore. Take for example 3D printing, or the global videogame market, which is a reification of the virtual. The new imperative is the centrality of interaction: for the Millennials, to be is to be interactable, and if you don’t interact with me, you don’t exist. In sum, the Manifesto is a constructive contribution to rethink us in a hyperconnected world, towards a new InfoEthics. For more information, see Floridi’s slides.
Then, Jean-Gabriel Ganascia gave us highlights on what does hyperconnectivity mean. The hyper- prefix is taken from physics (think about ‘hyperconductivity’), and it is very productive, because it is concerned with hyper-diffusibility (e.g., e-books), hyper-memorisability (e.g., clouding), or even hyper-history, recently introduced by Floridi himselfe, causing a political apoptosis. We are in a phase of transition, and henceforth forced to rethink concepts like policy, politics, democracy and so on.
This passage lead us the the problem of distributed responsibility: we have Multi-Agent Systems, drones, software, robots, and so no, which work in the same environment with humans (remember the estuary!) and pose new challenges. These were the topics addressed by Judith Simon, who argues that the state’s monopoly of power and legitimate violence are now inadequate, and we need knowledge practices for an epistemic dimension of reasoning that takes the ethic values from the start, not appended at the end. So we re-design governance through ICT tools. After her talk, Robert Madelin raised a key question: how can we avoid paternalism?
Then, it was the turn of the anthropologist: Stefana Broadbent introduced the notion of gray ecology, which is a measure of the pollution brought by digital technologies. In other words, hwo can we reach “clean technologies”, for our mind? Put in other words: how a hyperconnected, relational self, can protect oneself? She gave us as an example the Millennials’ practice of Facebook time: me and my peers know that I will be online in Facebook only one hour, more precisely 12:00-13:00 (lunch time, more or less). Why? Because attention is a scarse resource, and we need to put in charge attention economy strategies.
Peter-Paul Verbeek addressed the blurring of the traditional dichotomy public/private: on one side, we have to reconfigure privacy; on the other side, we have to reconfigure citizenship. The question is: what kind of democracy we will have in an onlife world?
I hope that you enjoyed this post. Now, you can participate directly. First, take a look to the user manual of the Onlife Initiative; then, co-create the vision of Europe 2050, signing up in Futurium.
And don’t forget to follow the official Twitter hashtag #onlifeeu for last news.