Swiss (ICT) foresight 2025 : BRACE for hard landing !

I’m really confused today (to say the least) re-reading the 2025 outlook for Swiss federal policy foresight document released recently.
Paying careful attention at the parts dealing with ICT, namely : pp 16-17 and challenge #10, pp 58-59, I couldn’t help feeling totally depressed.
Every point is presented stressing threats rather than opportunities or challenges to address and tackle.
Here are a few examples (based on the French version) :

  • technological developments and innovation surges are expected in a variety of domains. (“poussées d’innovation”) as if it were a childhood disease or fever to be controlled.
  • “Cette évolution fulgurante ne semble pas vouloir s’arrêter…” sounds like disappointment!
  • “La tendance à l’interconnexion des systèmes ouvre la perspective de gains d’efficacité réels sur les plans économique et écologique, mais elle risque d’accroître les situations de dépendance et de vulnérabilité ; les systèmes et les réseaux TIC sont en effet de plus en plus sophistiqués, et donc de plus en plus fragiles, et la société est de plus en plus tributaire de ces systèmes.” : should we understand that we should disengage and rollback ?
  • “Il a une dimension écologique, les ordinateurs modernes consommant une grande quantité d’électricite” : okay could we eventually balance that with the added value for society and the progress in green IT ?
  • “L’accélération du progrès technologique recèle toutefois des dangers…” : more of the same threats…
  • “Enfin, les questions du respect des droits d’auteur et de la protection des données se posent de plus en plus souvent.” : is that “news” ? Should we shut down the Swiss Internet ? Please see some of the talks of Prof. Larry Lessig who gave another brilliant talk yesterday at CERN.
  • etc.

Is it really a sustainable option not to embrace technological innovation and progress ? Can we afford to have such skeptical digital public policies for our future ? Shouldn’t foresight stress opportunities for action rather than threats leading to status quo ?

Remembering news from last September (see Le Temps, 14/12/2010, “La Suisse n’utiliserait pas assez les nouvelles technologies”)
“A wakeup call” facing the “collaps” of Switzerland in the 2010 Digital Economy Ranking (The Economist) dropping to 19 (from 12 in 2009) vigorously said Isabelle Welton (IBM Country General Manager for Switzerland)

This was further amplified by Doris Leuthard (in charge of Economy at the time) showing worries for Switzerland being ranked 45th worldwide in terms of eGovernment and falling behind Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark in terns of eHealth. She also stressed, and this is important, that it wasn’t about the technology, switherland being very well equipped, but about the Uses of that technology in society
This has led to the launch of the eEconomyBoard, a public-private partnership involving IBM, Microsoft, EPFL, La Poste, SECO among others. But the latest activity dates back to November 2010 according to their web site. It would have been nice to see this entity be slightly more proactive towards defining the challenges and prospective opportunities to shape public policies for the future in this area.

Considering this and coming back to the document discussed here, I would have expected a much more ambitious (i.e., less negative) plan to stimulate the debate towards setting the agenda and priorities for digital society / economy public policies for 2011-2015.

There are some very good examples out there, starting with the EU Digital Agenda (May 2010), one of the “seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, set out to define the key enabling role that the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) will have to play if Europe wants to succeed in its ambitions for 2020″.
Juxtaposing both documents inevitably leads to identifying the shortsighted view of the Swiss document in shaping the future policies allowing Switzerland to not only stay competitive but more importantly thrive in a global digital and service oriented world. Let’s not forget the Web was born in Switzerland at CERN and to quote Larry Lessig who gave a wonderful talk over there yesterday : “giving a talk at CERN is as cool as speaking at Pixar”…

In summary, I’m afraid we’re not anywhere close to seeing emerge a Digital Society state secretary or minister in Switzerland, even though it would be among the highest priorities for competitiveness and development. The document released is among the most depressing piece of ICT prospective thinking I’ve ever seen. Switzerland is therefore facing two major challenges: first to get our country officials to understand what is at stake, and then to design the ambitious strategic plan this country must implement in order to at least stay competitive if not leader with respect to this important societal challenge for our future.

So, in three words if nothing changes: BRACE BRACE BRACE ! Oh, and by the way, please don’t forget to pull the electricity plug before we crash (ecology), the saved power may help other countries implement their more ambitious plans.

And to finish on a positive note I call upon everyone to engage in this vital conversation towards a true debate on the opportunities of ICT for Switzerland and the corresponding public policies.

Will we remember the Internet before 2011 as B.W. (before WikiLeaks) ?

The whole WikiLeaks story raised a few comments I want to briefly share.

First, I was amazed to see that the global organic protest for the WikiLeaks cause has led to tens (if not hundreds) of thousands voluntary downloads of the botnet malware to participate in the global DDoS attack against WikiLeaks opponents. To the best of my knowledge (please comment and correct if I’m wrong), this is the first time in security history that people around the globe deliberately infect themselves with malware to fight for a cause. This isn’t any innocent fact like a blog or a Facebook group gathering millions of supporters, we’re actually looking at a form of modern digital weapon having the potential to disrupt operations of billions of legitimate users with consequences that may go far beyond the somewhat “simple” unavailability of one service. In our services led economy, this is a major issue. Paradoxically many claim this to be some form of ethical hacking allowing the voices of the small and the under-represented to be “heard” in the name of transparency and freedom of information. In any case, never in the past has digital protesting had such a tool to cast their voices. How this whole story unfolds and what position governments will take will be highly interesting to follow. We may actually be at a historical turning point of the Internet. Will we one day remember the Internet before 2011 as B.W. (before WikiLeaks) ? Hopefully not. Feel free to jump in and comment…

The second point I couldn’t help thinking about in connection with the WikiLeaks issue is the whole debate about “responsibility” and Ethics. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been around for a while now. It is being taught in almost every business school and in specialized master programs. Likewise, Compliance issues have led to a growing importance of regulatory frameworks following many financial scandals such as Enron, Worldcom, Martha Stewart, etc. More recently, the issue of a global financial crisis emerged and kind of vanished without actually being really addressed. Would we even be talking about this if people were more responsible and accountable for their actions ? Would WikiLeaks have even existed ?

So, the point is the following : both issues mentioned above relate to problems that have become global in their very nature and for which traditional remedies and approaches cannot apply any more (territorially bound legislation, global treaties, UN, centralization).

Internet Governance and Net Neutrality will require new approaches. Maybe not as technological and / or legal as one may think. Responsibility and accountability might be part of the equation. Acknowledging and taking into account the human factor appears to be the most promising direction to address many such problems. Eventually, it could even prove to be a major source of Empowerment for people in their roles and duties. This is the exact point that led me to consider managing exceptions in information security which may sounds totally counterintuitive at first sight (at least from a traditional point of view), but holds a lot of value when assuming people are : free moral actors, responsible; and technology is used to help and empower them rather than something to be circumvented in order to get the job done.

France to generate exclusion, discrimination and inequality with its “Music Card”

France has just released its order behind the “music card” as the public policy to accompany the so called “legal offering measures” for its three strikes approach to copyright infringement (HADOPI).

In a nutshell, I was deeply shocked by its implementation details. Not that I actually expected much out of it (Hey, it’s HADOPI related !), but sometimes you think / hope things can’t fail 100% of the time. Well, I hate to say but it’s actually much much worse than I expected (i.e., really ugly)

Basically I have three major point :

  1. Discrimination : The card is reserved for “youngsters” aged 12 to 25. Read : if you’re below 12 you should go ahead and figure out why you don’t belong to that category and consequently look for alternative options in the darknet or eventually consider filing a complaint for abusive age discrimination (something their parents should do given their young age). Likewise, up to 25 you should feel you belong to one of four stigmatized categories of youngsters as advertised in their ridiculous communication campaign videos : Rap / Electro / Rock and a Fashion junkie. Left me speechless!
  2. Inequality : The number of cards is maxed out at 1 M units per year! France has the largest population in Europe (65 M people) out of which (sorry I don’t have the breakdown for the age category 12-25 at hand, but…) I can reasonably assume there are much more than 1 M “youngsters” concerned, and by far. Moreover apparently this will be on a first come first served basis without actual age checking (self declaration based on honor).
  3. Exclusion : at a time when we’re talking about eInclusion and how to prevent exclusion, this initiative will only serve a handful of people excluding all the others. This is particularly corrosive considering it is instrumented by governments through public policies that cost actual hard worked tax payer dollars. But they are only buying themselves some good conscience, trying to legitimate their HADOPI law.

At the end of the day, there goes 50 M€ of public money down the drain through a public policy generating potential discrimination, exclusion and inequality. What a mess ! Adding up the public money spend through the years with DADVSI, HADOPI and this latest joke / waste of public policy, I just cannot refrain thinking it would have been much better spent educating our kids at school on these issue and others related to living in the Digital Age ! This has become as important as learning to read, write and count.

Lift10 Workshop : iDemocracy! Do you? Open Voting and Tribe oriented Public Debate

Lift10 is now in full swing, first day is almost over and 980 people are looking forward to probably the largest fondue ever 😉 look for pics on Flickr.

Tomorrow we’re starting a day about Politics (among other topics) and a morning workshops we’re running on iDemocracy reflecting on how social networks and media can enhance public debate. The Workshop title is “iDemocracy! Do you? Open Voting and Tribe oriented Public Debate“.

A short interview (in french) about the workshop was featured on RSR Le Grand 8 radio program on Wed. May 5. We’re looking foreward to welcoming you tomorrow morning for a challenging and thought provoking co-creative session at Lift10.