Framing solutions

Never has an industry attained such global dominance with so little effort at regulation. Search engines are like cars on motorways with no requirement for brakes, emission controls or seatbelts. The failure to regulate, let alone properly tax, these massive corporations is the grossest lapse of modern government (Jenkins, 2017).

Big data … is not a technology or an inevitable technology effect. It is not an autonomous process … It originates in the social, and it is here that we must find it and know it (Zuboff, 2015).

Introduction

The first chapter in this book explored several accounts of the IT revolution. Of particular interest was the contrast between those who framed this process in terms of positive outcomes and those who considered that it had been subverted by powerful actors especially in Silicon Valley. The second section considered two case studies: the Internet of Things (IoT) and the projected rise of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). It briefly employed Integral concepts to identify values and worldviews that appear to characterise leading figures within the IT industry. These interior human characteristics arguably have powerful consequences yet have been widely overlooked in high-tech environments. It concluded that, on the whole, and notwithstanding some obvious practical gains, there is evidence to support the view that the Internet has been undermined and compromised by the power, wealth and reach of vast monopoly enterprises. Yet multiple solutions already exist in embryo and many more are sure to emerge. This section challenges the current status quo and considers revising assumptions and re-designing (or re-purposing) the Internet and associated IT applications towards more egalitarian and socially viable ends. The enormity and complexity of IT reflects shifts and changes almost daily. So, a concise account such as this cannot be other than a work in progress.

A central theme of this publication is ill-considered or compulsive innovation. It questions fatalistic attitudes and argues that, far from being inevitable, concerns such as artificial intelligence (AI) or Chinese surveillance practices need to be brought more fully into the open and subjected to sustained critical enquiry. The theme of recovery and renewal is also addressed. Some critical ‘blind spots’ are briefly outlined (a distinct lack of interest in global challenges; a pervasive tendency to under-value ‘the social’) and reframed in more positive terms. The notion of ‘constitutive human interests’ is raised. It’s here that the positive implications of the project become more obvious since many of the concerns raised can also be viewed as positive opportunities for productive innovation and adaptive change.

A variety of innovations for better managing IT-related innovations and re-purposing the Internet are subsequently discussed. They include working with three scales of innovation, taming algorithms and supporting human agency. The positive innovation theme continues where wider questions about social democracy, new infrastructure and regulation are discussed. Finally we return to the question of ‘re-humanising’ the IT revolution. Here the discussion includes notions of the public good, moral universals (and their lack) and the vexed, ever-present question of the sheer ambiguity of unconstrained and rapid technical innovation. The conclusions are framed by a growing imperative to ‘disrupt the disruptors’ by investing in socially democratic actions and processes across the board. These could include changing the terms of business to rein in the oligarchs, breaking up monopolies (or re-constituting them as public utilities), subjecting proposed high-tech innovations to greater informed scrutiny, building new civic infrastructure and supporting the development of further IT capabilities in the public, as opposed to private, interest.