WELCOME TO THE Summer 2018 ISSUE OF STANDARDS REACH
As a valued partner of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), we welcome you to the Summer 2018 edition of Standards Reach. We hope that you find this newsletter informative and relevant to your organization.
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Empowering the Digital Citizen in an Age of Personal Connectivity to Everything
Wave after wave of digital technologies have demonstrated technology’s power to reshape our relationships as humans—with each other, with governments and markets, even with the very notion of reality. In the coming decades, digital technologies will blur the line between machines and the human body, overlay reality with digitally created content, and make us all stewards of our data and digital identities.
Thinking about the implications of these technologies is the goal of a number of initiatives at IEEE-SA that focus on “empowering the digital citizen,” aiming to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the ubiquitous personal connectivity through smart devices, and looking at these issues from both technology and policy perspectives. This issue of Standards Reach looks at four ways these questions are being explored within IEEE-SA, with the goal, as Moira Patterson, Global Affairs Program Director for IEEE-SA, says, of being “more human-centric than technology-centric.”
“IEEE’s mission is to advance technology for the benefit of humanity, and I think you have to look at that latter part, ‘for the benefit of humanity,’” says Patterson. “In the last few years we’ve recognized the importance of that and taken a more active role in tackling that side of the technology equation. We need to be mindful and considerate of how people will use any new technology, and what impacts it can have.”
Digital Literacy—The Key to Informed Digital Citizenship and Participation
Many countries already find themselves divided into two distinct groups—those who actively participate online, engaging in daily interaction with a global online world, and those who do not participate in the global online community. Even when the latter have online access, some individuals may have little knowledge of how to utilize these technologies effectively on their own behalf.
“Digital literacy is an impediment to connecting individuals throughout the world,” says Justin Caso, IEEE Technology Policy Programs Senior Manager. “At times, people have the ability to be connected, but they do not see how connecting can be of value.” Bringing them online in many parts of the world requires “considering the local needs of these individuals and the potential ways in which participation can be beneficial to their lives.” One example is farmers in developing economies who could utilize the internet to determine the anticipated demand at market and find the ideal time to bring their crops to potential buyers in order to maximize revenue.
Caso points to two activities going on right now to increase digital literacy, creating environments for productive discussion. The first is an effort coming out of IEEE-SA’s Industry Connections program to produce a uniform set of definitions to improve efficiency when connecting the unconnected. The second is a working group on Digital Literacy under the IEEE Internet Initiative. As Melissa Sassi of Microsoft observed, there is no definition of digital literacy “that applies to every person on the planet.” The current effort in the Digital Literacy group is on developing personas that represent different challenges to digital literacy in different parts of the world, which will help focus thinking about solutions.
Designing Ethical End User Considerations into What We Build and Use
“The word ‘ethics’ is not new to engineers. Engineers have integrated ethical considerations of safety and risk into their designs since the time of the aqueducts,” says John C. Havens, Executive Director, The IEEE Global Initiative on Ethics of Autonomous and Intelligent Systems (A/IS).
But new technologies raise new kinds of ethical issues. Products or services equipped with autonomous or intelligent algorithms will need to be designed to honor ethical considerations protecting human data, identity, and agency like never before.
Many new products bring multifaceted questions of societal impact and ethics into play. Havens says, “Oftentimes manufacturing decisions are made based on the desire to get to market quickly while still managing risk. Our goal is to ask deeper questions about how a technology can honor the values of end users and incorporate those needs from the design stage forward. This means not only will products you build be more likely to avoid negative unintended consequences, but what you build will be more relevant to users. This means your product will succeed in the market where others fail who haven’t spent this extra attention on values-driven design.”
The P7000 series of standardization projects—currently consisting of 14 approved working groups—is exploring these concerns. “Ethical issues along these lines are often seen by industry as a threat, where regulation might hinder innovation,” Havens says. “But when there’s more time taken at the front end of a design process to examine end-user values and build things that are more directly useful to people, then that front-end time is not about hindering innovation—it’s about increasing it.”
Enabling Inclusion and Protection: Digital Inclusion Through Trust and Agency
Like the digital literacy initiative, the IEEE Industry Connections program called Digital Inclusion Through Trust and Agency “looks at how we give meaningful and affordable access to more than half of the world’s population who are unconnected,” says Maria Palombini, Director of Community and Initiative Development at IEEE-SA.
The key is defining what it means to have meaningful access. “You don’t just go online once and it’s not automatic when you get online what to do. The solution should be designed to mean sustainable and affordable access to the internet,” she says. Part of it, then, is helping people get online the first time, effectively, which has far broader implications than just your ability to socialize online. “The need to be online is a financial, health, and human benefit.”
But the initiative is also looking at developing solutions that establish privacy and security of digital persona while enabling them to enjoy the benefits of the online community. “It’s developing a trust framework that enables the digital citizen to have personal agency, the right to be forgotten, and to protect their privacy and digital persona while restoring dignity to digital transactions amongst individuals and entities. The program also places a heavy focus on developing solutions that protect the most vulnerable—children, disabled, etc.”
A key issue is that, as Palombini says, “You don’t have to be online to have a digital identity”—we all leave digital traces. “The question is, how do we develop a trusted framework that allows me, the digital citizen, to manage those various pieces—my social identity, my financial identity, my health data—in a way that I can protect them, choose who I want to share them with in return for goods or services, and at the same time, once that relationship is over, I can be forgotten.”
Living in the Immersive Future City—And Working Toward It
What happens when all these new technologies come together as a single seamless platform and experience?
Then you have what some are calling the immersive future city—“The harmonization of the digital citizen’s connectivity with the connectivity of the smart city,” says Gerard Hayes, president of the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina and chair of the working group on Connectivity Harmonization of the Digital Citizen.
As he describes it, “The digital citizen is a resident of the immersive future city. An individual with a ubiquitous connectivity from in-body, on-body, and near-body networks to WiFi/WLAN and mobile systems. Real-time analytics of biometric data leads to an improved quality of health and fitness. Ubiquitous connectivity with the digital citizen’s environment allows for optimized, custom engagement with an individual’s surroundings—such as the automatic adjustment of home heating and cooling settings upon arrival.”
Two major areas of development before such a future can be realized are security and interoperability. Devices have to work on shared platforms and to some extent shared data, yet personal data has to be secure and private. Hayes sees this as a challenge which IEEE’s structure is uniquely well-suited to meet: “The most exciting aspect of this initiative is establishment of a cross-functional foundation for collaboration within IEEE. From physical-layer transceiver optimization on the body to higher level data processing and blockchain implementations, this interaction of technical disciplines will spawn innovation and standardization.”