The Quest for Digital Governance Includes IoT and Ambient Intelligence

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

The quest for Digital Governance is afoot to balance the benefits and challenges among technological, economic, societal and human interests, in this era of advancing digital technologies.  This quest’s success, like any other, depends on first setting the right destination and second having visibility of, or a way to discover the full seascape we have to deal with.  In the case of Digital Governance, that means recognizing that the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Ambient Intelligence it creates around us are a central part of the seascape in our quest.

Everything is Digital

Everywhere we humans turn these days, there’s talk of “digital” – and there is a good reason for it. Most information we deal with is digital or becoming digital, in the form of bits and bytes and higher-level data constructs they comprise.

Further, the way we work and interact with the data is through a Human-Computer Interface. But let’s correct this notion – we don’t really interact with the computer; we interact with applications that run on computers. The computer, whether on the desk, lap, palm, or in the cloud, is useless without applications.

The result is that we live in a digital environment comprised of information and a plethora of applications, underpinned by the Internet or internet-based connectivity. The information we deal with is mainly of human origin (text, voice, video) or generated by applications in response to us. There is, of course, new information and insights generated by platform-based intelligent and increasingly autonomous systems. That information is shared among other autonomous systems, with visibility and comprehension by relatively few humans, if at all.

This digital state of affairs has spawned or accelerated numerous disciplines and areas of endeavour including, among others,

  • User Experience (UX) design to facilitate, optimize and enjoy data interaction,
  • Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence for analytics and insights from data,
  • Cybersecurity to protect data integrity and communication and human privacy,
  • Blockchain for data and transaction integrity and non-repudiation,
  • Digital Governance for policies to maximize benefits and mitigate negative impacts on humans

The digital era has been in full swing for some time now, resulting in, not just the tsunamis of data, but also a transformation of human behaviour, how we relate to each other, and the character of societies and civilization. Commercial and political interests globally are feverishly working to both leverage and further influence our behaviour through this pervasive digital environment, while Digital Governance efforts are striving to catch up. All this as a result of digital data produced by humans and autonomous systems and attending applications, thanks to hyper-computing and hyper-connectedness.  Only time will tell how this will all play out in this “everything is digital” era – that is, how digital governance efforts attain the right balance between technologic/economic interests and the human/societal interests.

Oh – one more Thing

But wait – is that everything digital? Are we forgetting something?  Our ambient environment is much more than just the interactions through screens, clicks, swipes and scrolls.

We do live in a real physical world. Our ambient environment is comprised of the geography, spaces and structures we live in, full of physical things we use, consume and interact with. These things, which are increasingly outfitted with sensors, actuators, computing and connectivity, are becoming intelligent and autonomous things – the Things. They are the bridge between the physical and the digital worlds, generating data about themselves, their surroundings and the humans they interact with. Our interaction with the Things may be direct and local or in combination with platform intermediaries.  The bottom line is that the Things are not human, nor platform-based autonomous systems, but do produce mass quantities of data, and are now, most certainly, a part of the digital realm. However, they remain physical all the while adding intelligence to our ambient physical surroundings, and consequently affecting or forcing new human behaviours.

A Governance Hole

But now, the combination of humans and ambient intelligence is increasingly blurring the boundary between our interactions with humans and the physical world, creating a new and ambiguous model for our world. This converging paradigm also makes our physical environment a full-fledged member of the digital realm, as sure as the screens, clicks, scrolls and swipes have been – leaving an obvious hole in our digital governance. Unaddressed, digital governance will remain incomplete, leaving to chance the impacts of IoT and ambient intelligence, and where we ultimately end up as a civilization. 

As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it  “Tis the set of the sails and not the gales which decides the way to go” – so, we must set the sails in our quest for digital governance in a seascape that includes IoT.

IoT Digital Literacy

For policymakers to properly set the sails and complete the digital governance quest, they must go beyond just the  human or platform generated data and the related operational and governance concerns. To merge-in the effects of the physical ambient intelligence, policymakers must become literate with IoT, attaining relevant technological intuition and social impacts awareness. Further, IoT compels a systemic approach to digital governance innovation due to its breadth of technologies and impacts, needing to rely on effective innovation techniques and mindset such as Design Thinking.

After all – everyThing is digital!

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