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.

Advertisements

Old Scenario Rejuvenated through Cloud Computing

Well, interesting to see an “age old” (in Internet timing) scenario finding a second life, so to speak… This FT article, from Shane Robison in response to Nicholas Carr’s Digital Business cover feature published on January 30th 2008, talks about Cloud Services needed to fulfill a kind of scenario we all remember from the early Internet days involving a series of coordinated actions (such as reminders, information gathering for weather, flight status update, recommended route to airport based on actual traffic conditions, etc.) that need to be carried out for a traveler scheduled on a given flight. Assuming cloud services, the article further stresses some properties of such services like pervasiveness, proactivity and personalization.

Now what exactly would we find behind “cloud computing” ? Of course, all the great technology and infrastructure we now have at hand stemming from grid and utility computing and storage, service architectures, etc. but we may still be missing a basic building block. One which would offer some of the nice and desirable properties to realize such scenari. Actually, thinking about it again in terms of pervasive, proactive and personalized immediately triggered the idea of “personal avatars” or “electronic butlers” launched in the Ethos of the Cloud knowing at all time what to do, where I am, what I need, and of course able to protect itself from the outside since it is likely to hold many personal information. Having worked for some time on Mobile Agents, peer-to-peer protocols and DRM led me to think this might just be the time for a new start for Mobile Agents. Moreover, combined with virtual environments such as for example Second Life could represent just the right Human Computer Interface for Mobile Agents.

What better metaphor could we find for a mobile agent to which we delegate complex tasks than one of an Avatar which by the way may not necessarily have a human like representation. People may want to think about it as a simple “black box” with a mood like interface on it instantly showing a sign of its status… Real World and Virtual World probes and sensors helping along the way…

Fun times ahead and as we very well know, sometimes the timing is just not the right one, mobile agents have been around for decades, maybe just waiting for the right “Cloud” to start delivering on their promises and capabilities…

Blurring Lives : have virtual environments made their way into our Real Lives?

Having had some interest in virtual environments for some time, initially through Second Life, there now seems to be a critical mass of projects and people as well as a growing interest for Virtual Reality environments in the education and research community.

Of particular interest here is a paper [1] by Nancy Jennings and Chris Collins documenting current practices and uses in education and research within Second Life. The survey covers some 170 accredited educational institutions and is a very good starting point to get an idea of the kind of activities that are being carried out using this new media in order to augment, transform and start (re)thinking how some Real Life activities may be re-visited through such technologies. Mew media warrants new thinking! It will be very interesting to see how education and collaboration will look like in a maybe not so distant future…

[1] N. Jennings and C. Collins, “Virtual or Virtually U: Educational Institutions in Second Life”, International Journal of Social Sciences, Vol 2, No. 3, 2008, ISSN 1306-973X. (PDF File Here)

Information Security Management : A Wake Up Call !

A great article by Thomas Kendra (Symantec) posted in the Financial Times, Digital Business, Personal View (Dec. 5, 2007) urging for the need to adopt a “fresh approach” to information security management given the new challenges posed by our modern organizational structures. These now involve increasing interorganizational processes, insider threats and ubiquitous computing infrastructures. Obviously, this is “music to my ears” given my research interests in Enterprise DRM and Digital Policy Management (DPM).
Basically the whole point addresses the issue of how to go beyond current security approaches which are now insufficient and consequently fail given these new challenges. Or in other words, how do we address the current weakest link of information security basically boiling down to People and Mobility. And as we all know, security is only as good as its weakest link.

So, despite the “YouNameIt++ frenzy” (trend consisting of giving and incrementing version numbers to reflect the next generation of challenges in a topic, e.g., Web 2.0, Web 3, Identity 2.0, etc.) he calls for “Security 2.0” saying it builds on traditional security (Security 1.0) adding protection at the level of the information itself and the interactions.

Interestingly, Enterprise DRM is currently one of the possible technologies used in the corporate environment to address some of these issues trying to persistently protect and manage content no matter where it resides (i.e., including outside traditional corporate perimeters). As a result, this brings the granularity of the protection down to the individual information level by cryptographically associating governing rules to the content. Moreover, given the criticality of the managed content it is also possible to dynamically adapt those rules in real time thus allowing to basically “recall” content if needed.

Our environment cannot rely anymore only on perimeter based security, Access Control, and secure communication channels. We’ve passed the point of no return and need to address information security in a way that accommodates current and future business practices.

Two problems arise here : First Interoperability and the lack of standards in the field of Enterprise DRM. We cannot rely on vendor specific proprietary solutions. Second, most deployed solutions today address specific needs in siloed approaches (e.g., SOX, Based II, HIPPA, IP protection, etc.). As a result, the field needs to take a step back and rethink the whole problem at a higher abstraction level in terms of Policies and how they are managed. Some of which may be electronically instrumented through technical means (e.g., Enterprise DRM). This is Digital Policy Management, an emerging and very important research area I’m working on. I have setup a page for this in order to generate and stimulate discussion on these issues here: The Digital Policy Management (DPM) Page. Everyone is welcome to join the conversation (practitioners and researchers) on all aspects of the problem (engineering, management, legal, social, ethical, behavioral, etc.)

Source : FT.com, Dec. 5, 2007, New Threats call for a fresh approach, Personal View by Tom Kendra,
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bef572d0-9f58-11dc-8031-0000779fd2ac.html

 

Do we need to take a step back and rethink IT research ? Services Sciences may be part of the answer…

Interesting comments from Tim Berners-Lee reported in the Financial Times today about how the IT industry is dangerously engaged in short-term views and is consequently missing out on major potential risks and opportunities in our increasingly networked society and economies. Particularly emphasized is “the [current] lack of support for long-term research” which prevailed in the past in labs of major technology companies (such as AT&T, Xerox, IBM, etc.) and contributed to significant advances in the field. Nowadays, the tendency appears to be product driven over a period of 18 months rather than, as quoted : “here are some really big problems, go away and think about them, take some risks, come back with some ideas we don’t believe – the sort of things that triggered big advances in the past.

Also noted is the necessity for research on the future of the Web to “draw on experts from a mix of backgrounds, including technologists, economists, psychologists and sociologists.” in order to rethink Web interaction, organizing society and maybe replace existing forms of democracy.

I couldn’t agree more. In my opinion this goes far beyond industry research. This is also valid in the academic environment where some IT related disciplines such as MIS and IS are facing growing concerns with dramatic drop in enrolment. We need to take a step back and rethink our disciplines in ways that integrate the ever increasing dimensions of our societies. Of particular interest here, is the emergence of Services Sciences as a discipline drawing form disciplines too often isolated such as computer science, operations research, industrial engineering, business strategy, management sciences, social and cognitive sciences, and legal sciences. IBM has been instrumental in this direction which they now brand under the title of : Services Sciences, Management and Engineering (SSME).

Predictions are hard to make. However my “gut feeling” definitely includes evolution towards interdisciplinary research in our field to address the challenging issues of our networked economies and the growing pervasiveness of our “read-write” societies (borrowed from Lawrence Lessig, great talk at Linuxworld 2006 and TED Talk March 2007), but this is another story…

Source : FT.com, Dec. 6, 2007, Web founder warns of short-termism, Richard Waters and Kevin Allison,
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/36c5b334-a467-11dc-a28d-0000779fd2ac.html