How can the European Commission build a "human centred" internet that is inviting to people and busi...

21 April 2017


Reported by Makoto Takahashi, ESRC-funded Policy Intern

How can the European Commission build a "human centred" internet that is inviting to people and businesses alike?

In 2018, the European Commission will launch its Next Generation Internet initiative, which aims to make the internet more "open" and "human".

To help develop the Next Generation Internet concept, a two-day workshop was held in Cambridge last month to brainstorm what a "human-centred" internet might look like in practice, before moving on to identify policy-levers that the EC could pull to make this vision a reality.

The workshop, which was organised by CSaP in collaboration with the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, balanced 'out of the box' thinking with an emphasis on practicable policies. For example, Neal Stephen's satire of the cyberpunk genre, "Snow Crash" inspired some participants to propose that the Next Generation Internet should unite Europe under a new digital currency: the 'e-Onion'. This was a tongue-in-cheek provocation, but it sparked a serious debate about how innovations in blockchain could be embraced by the EU to promote transparency and accountability, ushering in an era of 'blockchain governance'.

Estonia's e-ID system provided another unlikely source of inspiration for our participants. Since 2002, every Estonian citizen has been issued with an e-ID card, linked to their personal data. Estonians can vote in their living room, board the bus in Tallin, and check their electronic health record while en route, all using their e-ID. It was argued that implementing a similar model on the European scale would enhance the mobility and choice of EU citizens, creating a new paradigm of 'a la carte citizenship'.

By the end of the workshop, attendees had identified five key objectives for the Next Generation Initiative. These objectives and a series of proposed policy solutions are detailed in the Policy Workshop Report, which can be downloaded from the European Commission website.

Speaking on behalf of the EC's DG Communication, Jorge Gasos stated that the workshop made a "rich contribution" to "shaping the broad, complex and ambitious European initiative in front of us".