Go digital…

30 April

Just after the World Economic Forum, businesspersons and others went out in the press and encouraged people to go digital.

The reason is quite simple, my colleague explained: “We are at a crossroads between two types of societies – the old traditional one and the emerging new digital society.”

Transition periods are never easy, though, he continued. There will be winners and losers, and it’s now that we should start to determine what kind of society we want to see in the future. In France, the Yellow Vests protest movement might be an example of what we will see more of in the future. In the beginning, it was just protest against the rise in the gasoline prices. Now, it has gone further and might even turn into a political party. One of the things that they are asking for is a different system of participatory democracy. The French president has launched a “national dialogue”, and although most people do not expect much outcome, it might turn out to be better than most people expect.

In Norway, the Norwegian government just appointed the first minister in charge of digital issues. Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister, said recently that Norway has to prepare for the digital revolution. She therefore appointed Nicolai Astrup, who was the Minister of Development, to this important position. Mr Astrup also sits on the United Nations High-Level Segment for Digital Cooperation established by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last year. The Panel is reflecting on both the risks and the incredible benefits of digital transformation. It goes without saying that new thinking and innovative ideas are needed to harness the benefits and manage the risks of this digital age. Norwegian banks will start to employ robots to give people advice on how and where to save money based upon their spending history. So, apparently, 2019 will be be the year!

A recent study published in the United States by the Brookings Institution showed that robots and artificial intelligence will replace as many as one quarter of the US working population in the years to come. Robots aren’t replacing everyone, but a quarter of U.S. job situations severely disrupted as artificial intelligence accelerates the automation of existing work is isgnificant. The report further says roughly 36 million Americans hold jobs with "high exposure" to automation — meaning at least 70 percent of their tasks could soon be performed by machines using current technology. Those jobs that remain largely unscathed by this evolution will be those requiring not just advanced education but also interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence and maturity.

However banal the question may sound, it is imperative that we ask it and try to answer it: where are we heading after all? Nobody really knows, but let us orient ourselves by quoting Martin Luther King: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

It is not enough to look ahead to, and brace for, technological developments. In thinking about how we shall participate in the making of this new emerging type of society, we must demand that justice be an integral component of it. Technological transition is not enough – there is ample evidence of that already in today’s world. We must bend our efforts to use this momentous transition to bring about the just world that Martin Luther King fought and died for.