Top­ics

Dig­i­tal­iza­tion is just the umbrel­la term for a broad range of very dif­fer­ent fields, which inter­act in com­plex ways and which each pose their own spe­cif­ic ques­tions. At iRights.Lab, we work on nation­al and inter­na­tion­al themes and top­ics, such as the fol­low­ing:

Dig­i­tal pol­i­cy and strate­gies
Tech­no­log­i­cal progress is unstop­pable and is pro­gress­ing by leaps and bounds. Soci­ety needs to be ready with the right respons­es to this devel­op­ment. That is why we urgent­ly need wide-rang­ing con­cepts and plans to catch up with real­i­ty and pre­pare for the future.
Algo­rithms and Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence
We are talk­ing to our smart­phones, and soon cars will be tak­ing us from A to B with­out any human help. Machine learn­ing algo­rithms can rifle through moun­tains of data and show us things which would have oth­er­wise remained hid­den, while trans­la­tion soft­ware is help­ing us over­come lan­guage bar­ri­ers. The role of auto­mat­ed process­es and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence in our daily life is con­stant­ly grow­ing, and bring­ing many ques­tions in its wake. We are work­ing on answer­ing those ques­tions.
Data pol­i­cy and data pro­tec­tion
The data which we — con­scious­ly or uncon­scious­ly — leave behind is often seen as 21st-Cen­tu­ry gold. The analy­sis of Big Data makes it pos­si­ble to gen­er­ate com­plete­ly new knowl­edge. Our data yields insights into many pri­vate or inti­mate mat­ters which we would often pre­fer stayed hid­den. This makes Big Data a dou­ble-edged sword: sci­en­tif­ic progress and eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits have to go hand-in-hand with con­cern for and pro­tec­tion of the pri­vate sphere.
Val­ues and ethics
In the offline world, con­ven­tions of behav­iour and con­duct by which we get along with each other have been devel­oped over hun­dreds of years. But the dig­i­tal world has only exist­ed for a few years — it has not had near­ly as much time. Our long-devel­oped val­ues don’t always trans­fer eas­i­ly into the dig­i­tal world. We need a new, soci­ety-wide dis­cus­sion with the goal of agree­ing on new rules.
Leg­is­la­tion
Law always lags slight­ly behind new con­crete cir­cum­stances. But tech­no­log­i­cal progress and changes to our lives have never flown by as rapid­ly as today. That means that many laws become obso­lete after only a few years of exis­tence. We need con­crete, far-sight­ed pro­pos­als about how to make our laws and leg­isla­tive process­es fit for pur­pose in these fast-chang­ing times.
Inter­net Gov­er­nance and par­tic­i­pa­tion
Thanks to the inter­net, every­one has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get involved in polit­i­cal and social debates, and to have a dia­logue with oth­ers. The inter­net is made by and for peo­ple. Because of the sig­nif­i­cance of the inter­net for social dis­course, it should not be unde­mo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly reg­u­lat­ed from above. Rather, there needs to be a mul­ti­ple-stake­hold­er model of gov­er­nance which brings togeth­er gov­ern­ments, pri­vate busi­ness­es and civil soci­ety to agree on prin­ci­ples and rules which affect the fur­ther devel­op­ment and use of the inter­net.
Inter­net of things
Already, your fridge can order milk by itself, you can set your ther­mo­stat remote­ly via app, and in an emer­gency your pace­mak­er can auto­mat­i­cal­ly call an ambu­lance. In the com­ing years, there will be more and more cases of every­day objects using the inter­net. But along­side the major advan­tages of these changes, there are equal­ly sub­stan­tial data pro­tec­tion risks. These need to be com­mu­ni­cat­ed to the pub­lic loud and clear; and there is a need to guard against them using approach­es such as “pri­va­cy by design”.
Future of work and social sys­tems
Not only in Ger­many, but all around the globe, the world of work is fac­ing rad­i­cal changes as a result of automa­tion and dig­i­tal­iza­tion. On the one hand many new jobs are being cre­at­ed, on the other hand many oth­ers are lost. We have to devel­op dif­fer­ent mod­els and dis­cuss how to tack­le the results of these process­es, and come up with a solu­tion that works for the ben­e­fit of soci­ety.
Copy­right law and other intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights
With­out legal exper­tise, you can’t use the inter­net with­out com­mit­ting a breach of law soon­er or later. The count­less rules, with their excep­tions and counter-excep­tions are just too com­pli­cat­ed. There is a need for edu­ca­tion of users on the one hand; and for con­struc­tive pro­pos­als for a mod­ern reg­u­la­to­ry sys­tem, which is easy to under­stand, which pro­tects achieve­ment, and pro­motes cre­ativ­i­ty and inno­va­tion on the other.
Open Access and Open Edu­ca­tion­al Resources (OER)
Thanks to the inter­net we now have the chance to make knowl­edge acces­si­ble and free for every­one, all over the world. But to achieve this we first need to cre­ate mate­ri­als which are freely avail­able con­trary to cur­rent com­mon prac­tice. So-called open licens­es are con­tribut­ing to a vast expan­sion in the spread of such mate­ri­als and they offer every­one free access to knowl­edge. There needs to be more edu­ca­tion around the dou­ble ben­e­fit that this method can bring, so that more peo­ple and busi­ness­es opt for this pio­neer­ing solu­tion.
Edu­ca­tion and research pol­i­cy
Across Ger­many, edu­ca­tors are encoun­ter­ing chal­lenges in terms of mak­ing the most of the pos­si­bil­i­ties of dig­i­tal­iza­tion. The most impor­tant rea­sons for these chal­lenges are a skills deficit amongst staff and a legal mine­field. Both prob­lems need to be addressed as quick­ly as pos­si­ble with goal-ori­ent­ed solu­tions.
Eco­nom­ic and inno­va­tion pol­i­cy
The progress of dig­i­tal­iza­tion has dra­mat­i­cal­ly changed the econ­o­my. Tech firms, many of which have only been on the mar­ket for a short peri­od of time, now count among the high­est-val­ued com­pa­nies in the world. But they can dis­ap­pear as quick­ly as they crop up. To keep up as a lead­ing loca­tion for busi­ness, we need to pro­pose new forms of co-oper­a­tion and cre­ate the right kinds of incen­tives to pro­mote inno­v­a­tive think­ing.
Blockchain tech­nol­o­gy
Blockchains are decen­tralised, open data­bas­es which are saved and updat­ed across large num­bers of com­put­ers simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. By def­i­n­i­tion, any­one can read or write on a pub­lic Blockchain. Many Blockchain pro­to­cols also per­mit decen­tral­ized process­es to be run on com­put­ers which form part of the Blockchain net­work. Such pro­grammes are often known as Smart Con­tracts. The most famous exam­ples of blockchains are cryp­to-cur­ren­cies such as Bit­coin. But there are many pos­si­ble appli­ca­tions of this tech­nol­o­gy which could affect a wide vari­ety of areas of life. That includes, for exam­ple, increased trans­paren­cy of sales or rep­u­ta­tion track­ing in jour­nal­ism.
Secu­ri­ty and trust
Every­one needs a pri­vate refuge. But due to our smart­phones we are per­ma­nent­ly online and save our per­son­al data such as pho­tographs in cloud servers. That means it has become much eas­i­er for gov­ern­ments, busi­ness­es and indi­vid­u­als to pen­e­trate into our pri­vate lives. It is not enough to stress the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the indi­vid­ual user and warn them of the risks. We rather need to find com­pre­hen­sive rules which can per­mit a secure life and to ensure their imple­men­ta­tion and enforce­ment.
Dig­i­tal state and inno­v­a­tive admin­is­tra­tion
One can already see the first exam­ples of states using the pos­si­bil­i­ties of dig­i­tal­iza­tion for the ben­e­fit of their cit­i­zens. Increas­ing­ly, admin­is­tra­tive affairs can be set­tled elec­tron­i­cal­ly. Thanks to the inte­grat­ing effect of the inter­net peo­ple can find it eas­i­er to get involved in pub­lic process­es. What’s more, mod­ern com­put­er pro­gram­ming and the use of elec­tron­ic doc­u­ments make for more effec­tive admin­is­tra­tion. These process­es should be sup­port­ed and fur­ther advanced.