Our Digital Strategy needs to be more human-centric and values-driven
What is Aotearoa New Zealand's vision for our digital future? We know one thing for sure - there will be a digital future of some sort. But what will it look like, and more importantly, what do we want it to look like?
The Government recently opened a one-month long public consultation on the draft Digital Strategy for Aotearoa (the closing date of the consultation is the 10th of November). However, beyond a few people who are already active players in the digital public sphere, there isn't broad-based awareness of this or the conversation underway about this critical strategic document and opportunity.
A document that will set the agenda for how we live in and through the next phase of the digital age needs deeper consideration.
The way technology is developing, this is what we currently face: potential for deep fake algorithms to artificially make any person, including the Prime Minister, say literally anything. A future in which there is little in real terms we can do against the surveillance of our digital steps or daily moods, where every service we use strips us bare of our data so that these can be sold - often even back to us.
How will we live and work with algorithms and robots alongside ourselves? Who should have access to our credentials so we can protect our digital identity and data sovereignty?
The draft strategy is silent on many such bigger questions that relate to ethics and a human-centric approach to technology rather than a techno-centric one.
Instead, it suggests that if we bring in technologies that we can get on the global market, the future is going to be bright in terms of trust, growth, and inclusion. No consideration is given to our emerging identity or the protection of future generations.
It is undeniably good that the strategy tries to paint an optimistic picture of the digital future, one that is full of opportunity. We need an optimistic future to be empowered, to flourish and to thrive as individuals and as a nation. But by not articulating that we are living in a time where digital technology is still emerging, and the way we employ it to live and work, is poorly understood and fundamentally broken, we increase the risk of the future being a dystopian one. at the very least, the Government risks failing in what it is setting out to achieve in the digital world - trust, growth, and inclusion.
The key question to answer at this stage of the consultation process is actually not about whether there we should trust technology. Everyone should know from recent examples that we can't trust technology. We can't yet trust artificial intelligence to be fair, inclusive, and just, as the recent controversy around a former Google AI researcher's criticism of large-scale language models shows.
From cable to cloud
We can't trust platforms to be respectful of data sovereignty and to act against hate speech and misinformation, as demonstrated by recently leaked files from Facebook and the account of the whistleblower Frances Haugen. The key question is whether Aotearoa New Zealand wants to embark on a bold and unique journey to fundamentally rethink technological development, from cable to cloud and from assembly to apps, to be more human-centric and values-driven.
This is a call to action to not simply give in to global technological trends, mainly driven by large offshore data monopolies, and thus becoming pawns in their games and allowing them to exploit people for profit. It is instead time to develop the confidence that Aotearoa New Zealand has its own digital identity, and has something distinctive to say when taking its seat on the table of global conversations about the digital economy and the digital future.
Therefore, as with climate change, the "Digital Strategy for Aotearoa" needs to be a subject conversation at every single dinner table in Aotearoa New Zealand, right now. It's too important to do otherwise.
Dr. Markus Luczak-Roesch is Associate Professor in Information Systems at Te Herenga Waka - Victoria University of Wellington
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