Facebook and Google use their “engagement algorithms” to suck up our data and turn it over to advertisers, purveyors of fake news and “psychographic messaging,” fed by Russian bots and digital operatives trolling for Brexit and Donald Trump's election. A battle is looming over who will control this sea of Big Data and artificial intelligence (AI)-- the public interest or Internet-based platform companies?
French president Emmanuel Macron has outlined a forward-looking strategy that seeks to inject European values into the race for AI development. When combined with efforts by EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager to enforce a rules-based order, and the EU’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation, there is the vague outline of a vision for the Digital Age that provides an alternative to Silicon Valley. But many parts of the blueprint remain incomplete. What is the German contribution to this discussion?
Many debates and policy decisions lie ahead. For example, should we become “data shareholders” who get paid for permitting Facebook and Google to mine our personal data? Or should our data be re-conceptualized as “social data” that is protected as part of the commons? Do we need to establish a collaborative CERN-type organization for the development of AI, to ensure the availability of open-source data sets and that the public good is kept at the forefront?
Nations have always required licensing and permits for traditional companies -- in this high tech era, do we need to create “digital licenses” which would make clear the rules and conditions for allowing platform companies access to German and EU markets, and develop the technological tools to protect one’s “digital borders”?
In addition, might blockchain technologies be deployed for creating “radical transparency” in commercial transactions, real estate records, online labor platforms, and for tracking online services for regulatory and taxation purposes (such as Airbnb, Clickworker and Upwork)?