Europe has a tradition of creating economies that are compatible with the society’s expectations. This tradition is embedded in our culture: people want to have government systems that empower them to become who they want to be. To address today’s challenges it would a good idea for governments to create a level playing field where people-centred technologies are developed, bring these technologies together and make them compatible with society’s needs.
The future of Smart Society development lies in its functioning on a European scale. In order to overcome today’s challenges cities have to act together; otherwise Europe may lose control over its future that in turn may start being dictated by American companies and Chinese investors.
In the American model, companies shape the city’s future. This means that society is nothing more than a consumer. During the last decades, tech companies have been focussed on the communication industry. Now, they are expanding their businesses and are about to take over the mobility and health market, e.g. Amazon goes into healthcare together with Buffett . They can operate healthcare systems cheaper than the existing healthcare systems because they already have the data.
“Information Technology is a game changer, but we have to ensure that it creates a world we want to live in”.
It evokes comparison with ‘The Matrix’: people think they are free, but they actually generate energy for machines. If governments are not cautious and proactive enough, smart society solutions will turn into money-making machines for big tech companies eventually. Therefore, the society has to actively say ‘no’ to going into this direction and create an European alternative. For instance, the European Commission (EC) did very well to implement data protection regulation . The EC’s next step should be to ensure transparency of algorithms and data ownership.
“We enter a new paradigm, a new way of dealing with each other, where we can be human being again.”
Democracy of doing: take responsibility and create solutions together
It is important that the city’s government could do two things. First, it has to set the ‘rules of the game’ that make co-creation happen in a way which safeguards public interest. Government should promote an egalitarian society and move away from the hierarchical top-down paradigm. It should ensure that society takes care of the public good, as society defines it itself.
Second, government should setup the framework where smart society development can scale up rapidly in a democratic fashion and where everybody can be involved.
The design enables the ability to create solutions together. Citizens are asked to develop solutions to issues they find important and as a result locally designed solutions meet citizen’s demands and fit within a city’s local context. The local design means co-creation where all stakeholders work together on solutions that address local problems. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Co-creation ensures bottom-up development, where all stakeholders participate together. It is about inclusion: where everybody is part of the process.
Upscaling Smart Society developments
Many European cities work on smart society development. For years, cities have been visiting each other, sharing knowledge, but didn’t take enough care of developing solutions together. Today’s challenge is to bring these developments together and create an ‘upscaling machine’. Therefore, the European Commission should consider creating a platform where cities could share knowhow and tap into capabilities. By bringing smart society developments together cities become interrelated and upscaling can take place. The EC’s responsibility is to change governance and structures to promote continuity and making things work.
Cities like Eindhoven are front-runners in smart society developments. They have the knowhow, understand how technology works and create underlying structures for sharing technology and enable grassroot developments. Front-runner cities could help other cities that are not able to do it themselves, e.g. by developing plug-and-play technology that is compatible and adjustable to the society’s needs. With design processes it can be customized to the city’s local context. Because generic building blocks always have to be adjusted in the specific local context. Trust is a critical element here. It is essential for cities and citizens to always have access to the systems underlying the technology so that they could understand the logic (e.g. algorithms) that makes the technology behave in a certain way, triggers responses or evokes decisions. .