13 November 2018 marked the official launch of the Digital Future Society Programme in Barcelona.

At its inaugural Summit, the Digital Future Society Programme brought together more than 70 experts in innovation, technology, research, philosophy, as well as various representatives of civil society who discussed how to address ethical, legal and social challenges linked to digital transformation.

Attendees included Luca de Meo, Chairman of SEAT; Mats Granryd, Director General of GSMA; John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA Ltd.; Daria Tataj, European Unión Strategy and Policy Advisor; and Rahilla Zafar, Managing Director of ConsenSys, all of whom are members of the Digital Future Society Global Board of Trustees.

Other notable participants include Arantza Ezpeleta, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Acciona, Sarah Harmon, Country Manager for Spain and Portugal of LinkedIn, and Andreu Veà, Chairman of Internet Society in Spain.

The purpose of the Digital Future Society Summit was to set the stage and scope of issues, questions and that the programme should consider part of its scope of activities. These include how global economic policies will evolve in digital environments, the role of cities in driving public sector digital transformation, and how to bring powerful women from every background to the picture without leaving anyone behind.

These are subjects that the DFS Summit will also address to dig into the impact of technology in driving social change and new economic models. In short, is it possible to disrupt the future to build a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable society in the era of emerging and increasingly ubiquitous technologies? Can we move from smart cities to smart citizens to smart society?

A day of action-oriented reflection

The day opened with a welcome from Esteban Redolfi, Director of the Digital Future Society Programme, who introduced the four main themes of the DFS programme: public innovation, digital trust & security, citizen empowerment & inclusion, and equitable growth. Redolfi went on to ask expert attendees for their inputs, experiences and imagination on how the programme might best deliver and fill gaps within each of the aforementioned themes.

Next Francisco Polo, Secretary of State for Digital Advancement, welcomed the participants and noted how the Digital Future Society Programme has the capacity to contribute to a “future that we all deserve: a more prosperous, inclusive and fairer world.” David Ferrer, the Secretary of Telecommunications, Cybersecurity and Digital Society at Generalitat de Catalunya was next to offer words of welcome, highlighting the roles of open and collaborative innovation in driving regional digital leadership. Finally Gerardo Pisarello, the first deputy mayor of Barcelona, remarked on the importance of critical thought and discussion in innovation in his opening speech.

Keynote: How to Fix the Future

After the opening speeches and institutional welcome, author and entrepreneur Andrew Keen delivered a keynote based on his 2018 book, How to Fix the Future. Keen’s talk began with a quote from biologist Tom Knight: “Everything interesting happens because one field has crashed into another.” Before participants set out to “fix the future,” Keen cautioned that as a society we must seek to “shape our digital future before it shapes us.” He went on to offer 5 key components of a 21st century operating system, each underlining the critical role of human agency in building a habitable digital future.

Andrew Keen Digital Future Society

During Keen’s keynote, participants were urged to think how we might keep “tech that takes” in check by remembering that what makes us human (agency, creativity, consciousness, empathy) might also be framed as the limits of technology. Participants were invited to think boldly about how we might shape our cities and societies accordingly, for instance by cultivating these uniquely human skills in our educational systems.

Following the keynote, the Global Board of Trustees withdrew to hold their bi-annual meeting, while the remaining participants remained in the workshop area to form breakout groups on reshaping policy making processes and architecture, upgrading citizens while upgrading machines, and designing a human-centric society. The idea of conflict/collisions/tension also guided workshop participants’ thinking: aspects of speed, depth, degree of collaboration and courage when it comes to collective decision-making. Although we might not know the outcome of a conflict or “collision of fields”, we must seek to fearlessly collaborate instead of compete, including with technology itself.

Rethinking policy and the role of cities

During the breakout group discussions, participants exchanged ideas on how policymaking and even democracy might be different in a digital future: more fluid, experimental and values-based, no longer tied to election cycles. Fresh thinking and new questions emerged from these policy discussions: what if we invited long-term thinkers to take a role as political architects? Participants were invited to consider “good” working examples in Estonia and Singapore.

Also discussed thoroughly in each breakout group was the critical role of cities. The city emerged as the vehicle to drive change and support us as humans, together with the idea that cities can be entrepreneurial. Participants imagined all kinds of new roles that local governments could take on in the near future: as convenors and facilitators, as test-beds for fearless experimentation and as preservers and champions of the democratic spirit.

Throughout the workshop, participants were pushed to come up with less sameness; in other words, new, unusual and un-same ideas, no matter how outlandish or unconventional. Break out groups were encouraged to think about how the future might be inclusive of different constituencies: from the 1% to the have-nots, tech giants to SMEs, and all types of government.

From the group discussions, a radical idea emerged:  “Why not let women rule for a while?” Participants further discussed how diversity might be fostered by incorporating women in leadership positions, and how we might attract more women and girls to STEM/IT work and studies.

Wrapping up the day

Upon the return of the Global Board of Trustees, the first Digital Future Society Summit was closed with speeches from Secretary of State for Digital Advancement Francisco Polo, Catalan Minister for Digital Policy and Public Administration Jordi Puigneró, Mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau, and Carlos Grau, CEO of Mobile World Capital Barcelona.

One participant made a final observation to close out the day: “we need to move beyond what we have now and actually start working together.” At the first Digital Future Society Summit and workshop, that is exactly what 75 world-class academic-researcher-policymaker-entrepreneur-citizens did.

As a diverse combination of international thinkers and builders of the digital future, participants affirmed their intention to collaboratively shape a society not for robots, but for imperfect humans, and bravely took first steps in that direction under the aegis of Digital Future Society. Minds saturated with new insights, conversations and ideas, participants were invited to save the date for the next edition of the Digital Future Society Summit on the eve of the Mobile World Congress Barcelona in February 2019.

Couldn’t make it to the first Digital Future Society Summit?

Download a PDF copy of the workshop conclusions here and check out the video below: