What has made possible the digitisation of (almost) everything was the invention of the microprocessor in the early 1970s – a general-purpose programmable electronic device capable of processing digital information. The continuous increase in performance and decrease in the cost of microprocessors over the last decades facilitated the wide spread of digital technologies, such as the personal computer, the internet and the smartphone. Digitisation is the process through which elements of the real («analog») world are converted into data (numbers in form of 0 and 1 – digits). Texts, images, sounds and video can be converted into digits, stored on computers and exchanged in a network of networks (the Internet). What's more, with the development of «the Internet of Things», there will be more and more data coming from all the sensors that will be present in the «real world» and stored in “farms of servers”.
These «Big Data» can be analysed and modelized in order to predict and influence in return the «real world». Third or fourth industrial revolution, second machine age, new step of evolution in human kind, there are a lot of dithyrambic words to characterize the digitalisation, which is the shaping of our societies through digitisation. Of course, the widespread use of digital technologies and the new applications of artificial intelligence which are now developed will have an impact on social, economic and political systems. Anyway, on the contrary to the main «deterministic» explanations of technological transformations as a «natural evolution» that could not be changed, we want to explain people what digitalisation is, to make citizens aware of the stakes and give them the basic knowledge to make them understand what is going on. The following point should be stressed: this is a man-made process, and not a natural phenomenon and each of the several players who promote the technologies and the social and economical transformations linked with them has his own interest and his own agenda. To understand these interests and these agendas can help us clarify the chances and the hazards of the digitalisation.
However, in a high competitive economy, there is a sort of «self-fulfilling prophecy» in the field of technology that doesn't reflect rational choices and could be dangerous for the european societies if their citizens don't react and reclaim a right to shape the on-going transformations. A social ranking system like the one experimented in China is not really what european democracies should implement, just because they fear to lose the economical competition. Monopolistic firma like Facebook or Google should not be allowed to manipulate their users at a very fine level with algorithms which collect almost everything about them. Hate speeches and fake news should not be advantaged just because they bring more clicks and are good for the advertisement business. Privacy in the internet age should not be a new privilege which could be obtained through money or education, whereas other on-line consumers would pay their «free» access with their own data, not even knowing that they are targets of data brokers. What's more, the question of labour and related income is now becoming very important in a time when a large part of the jobs are to be automatized or transformed through AI and robotization. Gig platforms that hire low paid «free lancers» and destroy local economies should be regulated and alternatives should be proposed and sustained by public policies (platform cooperatives, for example).
All these questions are part of a «digital literacy» which aims at providing insights in the main debates of the digitalisation, so that trainers for adult education could use them with their trainees to empower them in this ever changing «digitized» world. The purpose is to give them the will to take part in the debate and to articulate the rights they have to defend (human rights to privacy, transparency and trust in institutions, sovereignty upon their own lifes) in face of the new challenges of technological and economical changes.
Author: Dr. Isabelle Bohnke for COOPETIC