Tuesday, 19 January 2016

NERVOUSNET - Towards an open and participatory, distributed big data paradigm

by Dirk Helbing (ETH Zurich and TU Delft) and collaborators

Motivation: As the development of the Internet of Things (IoT) is taking up speed, connected devices produce staggering amounts of data. Estimates by Cisco say that by 2020, there will be 7 times more connected things than people – devices which will produce hundreds of zettabytes of data every year. Moreover, according to IBM, data volumes will soon double every 12 hours, not just every 12 months. Then, it is neither possible to store all the data nor to transmit it all for centralized processing and optimization. Therefore, we expect a new, complementary big data paradigm to emerge. This will involve decentralized approaches, data aggregation, and "optimal forgetting" of data, also for reasons of costs, scalability, and security.

As the connectivity in today's techno-socio-economic systems increases steeply, systemic complexity does so, too. Taken together, this will exclude a centralized optimization of societal-scale systems, particularly due to the NP-hardness of some optimization problems and the limitations of predictability and calibration (such as over-fitting problems and parameter sensitivity). However, highly performing solutions can often be realized in real-time by means of flexible and adaptive, decentralized heuristics. These specify self-organizing systems. All that matters to reach a desired systemic outcome efficiently is a suitable choice of the interactions between the system components. The scientific disciplines of mechanism design and complexity science serve to identify these interactions.

Decentralized solutions also leave space for diversity in the locally applied goal functions. This allows for innovation and solutions that fit the respective context and local culture best. Diversity is also often favourable for innovation rates, for societal resilience to disruptive events, and for collective intelligence. For these and further reasons, decentralized and pluralistic systems can be superior to systems lacking diversity. (Note that, in biological systems, the value of diversity is already recognized since a long time.)

Managing the future data deluge wisely is currently one of the biggest challenges facing policy, industry and civil society. The project proposed here will study how big data from connected devices can be used to build a so-called Planetary Nervous System. We envision a transparent, open-access information system, which can support crowd-sourced real-time measurements of the world. A system like this could revolutionise many sectors, from urban planning and traffic control to the early detection of epidemics. Compatible with IBM's IoT paradigm of "device democracy", we propose a citizen-run participatory platform. The platform aims to have extensive features to protect user privacy and create big data as a public good. The goal is to build a participatory data ecosystem complementing classical big data approaches and to offer opportunities for everyone: science, business, politics, and the citizens.

Historical development and state of the art: In 1943, IBM chief Watson expected that there is a world market for maybe 5 computers. However, everything changed when computers were connected with each other. ARPANET networked a couple of military computers to make the USA less vulnerable to nuclear attacks, using the principle of decentralization. Soon after this, the Internet became accessible for everyone, and with the invention of the http protocol, Tim-Berners Lee made it possible to easily connect webpages with each other. This created the World Wide Web (WWW) and made it useful for non-experts, which was the precondition for the emergence of a multi-billion-dollar digital market. With social media, the Internet reached out for people, who became nodes of a global information processing system. Now, things are connected to the Internet too, creating the Internet of Everything. It is predicted that, by 2025, 150 billion sensors will be wirelessly connected to the Internet (of Things), which makes it possible to give objects senses and, together with actuators and machine learning software, even a certain level of artificial intelligence (AI).

This allows one to create a digital nervous system on a planetary scale, i.e. a global Internet-of-Things-based information system with an intelligent, learning software layer on top. The question is how to design and operate such a system to support a thriving economy and society. Answering this question requires not only knowledge from computer science and electrical engineering, but also knowledge from the social sciences and complexity science, to ensure a systemic view. Here, we propose the Nervousnet project to develop such an integrated solution.

Project overview: Unlike most Internet of Things initiatives spearheaded by big IT companies or public institutions, Nervousnet shall be run as a 'Citizen Web', built and managed by its users. Inspired by Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap, people, companies and devices will be able to interact with Nervousnet in 3 ways: by contributing data; by analysing the crowd-sourced datasets; and by sharing code and ideas. Anyone should be able to create data-driven services and products using a generic programming interface. The aim is to yield societal benefits, business opportunities and jobs.

Today, there are several Internet of Things platforms and data science projects that share Nervousnet’s vision, but none has its scope.

These projects focus on participatory data collection (http://funf.org, http://www.kaaproject.org; http://thethingsnetwork.org/, or http://www.opensense.ethz.ch/trac/);

decentralized communication services (http://maidsafe.net/, https://www.ethereum.org, http://dcentproject.eu);

or big data analytics:
(www.socialsensor.eu, http://datalook.io, https://www.amigocloud.com, http://stratosphere.eu, http://gdeltproject.org). Nervousnet aims to meet all three objectives

Moreover, Nervousnet wants to enable real-time measurement and feedback to support self-organising systems. For example, self-controlled traffic lights responding to local pedestrian and vehicle flows can reduce urban congestion and outperform today's systems based on centralised control. The ultimate challenge will be to digitally enable collective intelligence. Digital assistants can help bring knowledge, ideas and resources together. A pluralistic approach to information processing is important to view complex problems from varied perspectives and also to anticipate and assess rare and extreme events that are costly for society – such as natural disasters, blackouts or financial meltdowns.

Nervousnet uses distributed data storage and distributed control, so that it is more robust to attacks and centralized manipulation attempts, easy to scale up, and tolerant to faults. Nervousnet's approach is compatible with the principles of informational self-determination and, according to our judgment, also with the new EU Data Protection Directive.

Attracting users is a further challenge, which will be addressed by 'gamification' and a micro-payment system to reward and incentivise digital co-creation. As critics may worry about the responsible use of bottom-up systems, Nervousnet also aims to integrate reputation systems, qualification mechanisms, and self-governance by community moderators ("social technologies").

In the long run, we expect that measurements tailored to specific purposes, together with crowd-sourced data generation, curation and analysis may outperform the big data analytics approach currently in vogue. Just as the open standards of the World Wide Web created unprecedented opportunities and a multi-billion-dollar economy, the right framework for the 'Internet of Things' and digital society could foster an age of prosperity.

Project components: To provide the full perspective of the project, which may be realized long-term with complementary resources, we give an overview of the main envisaged platform components and functionalities in the following. 

Figure: Schematic illustration of some core components of the Nervousnet concept.

In the long run, the Nervousnet platform (to run on several mobile platforms such as iOS and Android, but also on embedded devices such as Arduino) will comprise a considerable number of functional elements:

Real-time measurement: The Nervousnet platform opens up various sensors for real-time measurement of the world around us (status: done). This will enable the measurement of "externalities" such as social or environmental impacts of interactions between systems and system components (e.g. of noise or other emissions). We plan to make it easy to add further, external sensors, for example, for smart home applications, using Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms. [Has already been internally tested, needs to become easy to configure and use]

Anonymization: Data streams are not linked to personal or smartphone identifiers, but to a randomized identifier that can be specified to change over time. [Done]

Security: Data streams, communication and data sources (smart devices/their owners) shall be secured by state-of-the art encryption. Data shall be decentrally stored to reduce possible impacts of attacks. [Implementation in progress, will be further extended]

Privacy: The GPS sensor is not made accessible or turned off by default. The smartphone's microphone is not made accessible as a microphone. Its signal is turned into a virtual noise sensor by means of a digital filter. A similar strategy is applied to other sensitive sensors. [Implemented and on-going, see also "Data aggregation"]

Informational self-determination: Users can easily turn data collection through the Nervousnet platform on or off and regulate the frequency of data collection. Furthermore, they can determine separately for each virtual sensor, whether data will be logged only locally for one's own use (e.g. in smart home applications) or shared with others. [Implemented]

Decentralized data storage and processing: Nervousnet is based on distributed storage to make the platform resilient to attacks and centralized manipulation attempts, easy to scale up, and tolerant to faults. User groups can decide to join the Nervousnet community and share their data with it or decide to run their own data server. [Functional, under further development]

Forgetting: Most of the measurement data are needed for real-time feedback (as they are needed to enable self-organizing systems). Users will be able to specify a time period after which data will be non-decryptable or automatically deleted (at latest). On top of this, Nervousnet aims to determine strategies for optimal forgetting (the usefulness of most data decays quickly with time). [To be implemented]

Data aggregation ("global analytics engine"): Before their deletion, data may be aggregated to provide information such as minimum and maximum values, averages, standard deviations, or other relevant statistical quantities to provide information at various levels of granularity without revealing personal data. This is being done by a "global analytics engine". The particular novelty of our approach is that it can aggregate data in a fully decentralized fashion, even when input data changes over time [Feasibility has been successfully tested; first version available soon]

Local analytics engine: Data logged locally can be accessed for providing data-driven services to Nervousnet users. The data are managed and accessed transparently via a high-level application programming interface that hides low-level technical details. [First version exists, will be further extended]

Pluralistic data processing: Users can also process a certain volume of shared Nervousnet data for free for own applications, such as services or games. They can run their own data aggregation and visualization algorithms, such that their view of the world is not determined by others, but self-determined. [Must be made user-friendly.]

Data visualization: The Nervousnet platform will offer various possibilities to visualize data. For this, we intend to link the platform with an open source visualization platform that runs on various devices, including smartphones, such as the D3 JavaScript platform. [Feasibility has been tested; to be developed further]

Personal data store: Sensitive personal data is only stored locally on the own smartphone. A personal data store shall make it simple to administer the data according to various categories and determine whom to give access to what kind of data for what kind of purpose and period of time (e.g. for use by a bank or other company). We might integrate OpenPDS developed at the MIT or other open-source software such as digitalID. Transactions may be supported by a AI-based digital agent that learns the user preferences locally on the smartphone. [To be done.]

Personalized services: The personalization of services will be enabled by means of a matching principle. The offers by a provider of data, services or products can be customized using data from the personal data store, without revealing the identity of the customer or user (if they don't want to). [To be done.]

Social technologies: The Nervousnet platform will be equipped with social mechanisms (such as communication or social networking) in order to create social opportunities. This will consider knowledge from game theory, mechanism design, and complexity science such that the implemented mechanisms support coordination, cooperation, and responsible use. [To be done.] 

Digital assistants: AI, machine learning and other approaches (such as recommendations and best practices from experts and users) will be employed to offer assistance to users. This will be done in a distributed way (e.g. on the user's smartphone) and only if explicitly agreed by the respective user. [To be done.]

Creating a Participatory Information and Innovation Ecosystem Open source and open innovation: Most computer code of the Nervousnet platform (not necessarily though the code of potentially commercial apps running on top of it) is made open source to allow experts to check its security and functionality. This creates trust and also participatory opportunities to contribute to the further development of the platform and its functionality. [This is our policy; a dual licensing model is being considered]

Crowd-sourcing and participatory opportunities: Users can contribute data, analyse the crowd-sourced data, contribute, use and modify code (e.g. new measurement methods, "virtual sensors"), or release apps using Nervousnet data. Therefore, anyone can create data-driven services and products using a generic programming interface. [Must be made user-friendly]

Reputation and incentive systems: In order to reward users for contributions (for data, code, and apps, or also for social, healthy or environmentally friendly behaviour...) and to assess the quality of data and services, multi-dimensional reputation and incentive systems will be designed and developed for the Nervousnet platform to provide a differentiated, context- and community-specific feedback. The incentive system will also be used to promote responsible use of the Nervousnet platform. [To be done.]

Collective intelligence and digital democracy: It is also planned to develop an online deliberation platform, which allows one to collect and integrate the knowledge and ideas of many people in order to support better solutions to problems that need to be solved. [To be done.] 

Citizen and Business Engagement: One goal of the project is to reach citizen engagement with digital technologies, as this is important for the digital transformation of our society to succeed. For this, participatory opportunities and open innovation are as important as incentive systems and gamification (and a collaboration with companies and public media).

Treasure Hunt: This app allows to localize "Treasures" equipped with Bluetooth beacons, turning the smartphone into a kind of radar system measuring proximity. [App exists, must be integrated into the Nervousnet platform]

Competition Game: This app allows one to perform group competitions using the output of selected virtual sensors (measurement of acceleration, noise or distance). For example, one could perform a virtual arm wrestling or a biking competition. [App exists, must be integrated into the Nervousnet platform]

Swarmpulse: This app allows one to perform geo-located measurements of light or noise intensities and create corresponding maps. It is also possible to leave geo-located text messages, which could be links to photos or movies, thereby allowing people to map the environment around them. [To be done.] 

Disaster response and societal resilience: This app should provide functionality in case the mobile phone network is broken down, offering information exchange via ad hoc network protocols such as the one used by "firechat". The app should also offer simple local coordination of supply and demand between peers – something like a sharing economy functionality for disasters. [To be done.] 

Early warning system: Advance detection of impending risks with predictive analytics and methods from complexity and network science. [To be done.] 

Usefulness for policy decision-making: Nervousnet and apps running on top of it (particularly Swarmpulse) will be able to engage with citizens and to collect data on the environment (allowing one to generate, for example, noise maps, maps of plant and animal species, etc.).

Invitation: Everyone who is motivated and qualified to contribute to the Nervousnet platform or Apps is invited to contribute. We are reaching out to international academic institutions, but also to coding, gaming and fablab communities to establish international Nervousnet hubs (see nervousnet.info). You can also apply to join the PhD class on „Engineering Social Technologies for a Responsible Digital Future“ at TU Delft with your own funding, e.g. a stipend, see http://www.tbm.tudelft.nl/nl/onderzoek/engineering-social-technologies-for-a-responsible-digital-future/ for details. In case of interest, please send an email to nervousnet@ethz.ch

D. Helbing and E. Pournaras, Build Digital Democracy, Nature 527, 33-34 (2015): http://www.nature.com/news/society-build-digital-democracy-1.18690

E. Pournaras, J. Nikolic, P. Velasquez, M. Trovati, N. Bessis, and D. Helbing, Self-regulatory information sharing in participatory social sensing, preprint (2015).

E. Pournaras, M. Warnier, and F.M.T. Brazier, A generic and adaptive aggregation service for large-scale decentralized networks, Complex Adaptive Systems Modeling 1: 19, 1-29 (2013).

E. Pournaras, I. Moise and D. Helbing, Privacy-preserving ubiquitous social mining via modular and compositional virtual sensors, in: Proceedings of the 29th IEEE International Conference on Advanced Information Networking and Applications-AINA-2015 (Gwangju, South Korea, March 2015), pp. 332-338.
D. Helbing, Interaction Support Processor (2015) https://patentscope.wipo.int/search/en/detail.jsf?docId=WO2015118455

Monday, 11 January 2016


with Dirk Helbing (ETH Zurich and TU Delft)

In Europe, you triggered the discussion about the Citizen Score, which has also been characterized as data dictatorship.[1] How did we get to the point that different companies and countries are now building information systems for behavioral and social control?

The world faces a series of global problems that are so severe that there is little interest to discuss them in public. 

So far, the financial, economic and debt crisis has not anywhere been comprehensively solved. There are still major economic risks. Peace is unstable, and we are witnessing the spread of terrorism and cybercrime. The digital revolution will destroy about 50 percent of today's jobs. So we must reinvent half of the economy and we have perhaps only 20 years for this. Global climate change will probably cause the greatest mass extinction since the death of dinosaurs, as well as extreme weather, droughts, mass migrations and wars. Nobody would have thought that the biggest problem is not the finite reserves of oil and coal, but their enduring availability at low cost. Nevertheless, there are mounting resource bottlenecks at a global level. This concerns nitrogen, phosphorus and water, for example. Therefore, feeding the world might become a problem. Based on an overall global average of all raw materials, the world consumes 1.5 times the resources actually available. Thus, there are either more than 1 billion people too many in the world, or we have to use resources more economically. But attributing the problem just to overpopulation would be too simple. It is the industrialized countries that consume 3.5-4.5 times the amount of renewable resources.

What results from this?

Clearly, this will lead to massive challenges. If we continue as before, massive waves of refugees, wars, terrorism, and revolutions are the obvious consequences. We can no longer keep these problems at bay; due to the strongly networked and interdependent nature of the world, they will sooner or later come back to us like a boomerang. So we must increasingly ensure that humane living conditions prevail everywhere.

In the past, we could ease the stress on resources through globalization, by exploiting resources located elsewhere in the world. The revolution in the area of information and communication technologies (ICT) made it possible to outsource production to low cost countries and avoid the associated environmental pollution in industrialized countries. For a long time, that seemed like a smart move. But then China grew to rival US hegemony, which implies the risk of dangerous military conflicts.

In the recent decades, the USA has focused on the production of knowledge, inventions and creative products, because that is where all value creation chains begin. To sit at the source promises the greatest commercial gains. In order to protect the commercial value of ideas, surveillance technologies were put in place (e.g. against Bit Torrent downloads of music and movies). Today, these technologies are used by many popular Internet platforms to study our intentions. They increasingly penetrate our private spheres of life. This is claimed to happen for the sake of a better user experience, through innovations such as personalized services. At the same time, however, our privacy was stolen in order to get more easy access to our money and life, or to sell it back to us expensively. If we do not pay attention, we might soon lose our freedom and our rights.

How have these new technologies changed politics?

The new technologies have also played into the hands of governments - including the personalized advertising that is often used to offer free information services. States have become beneficiaries of the total surveillance of citizens and customers by the private sector. That is why they have done little to curb these developments so far. To justify it, security arguments were put forward, although mass surveillance is statistically no more successful in countering terrorism than conventional investigative work.

Why is this the case?

Data analyses are not perfect. They produce many false positives, resulting in lists with too many suspects. For example, most of the Paris terrorists were on such lists. It was also known in advance that at least one of them had radicalized, and another one was taught to shoot at a police sports club. The problem of the Big Data approach is that the number of suspects exceeds the number of actual terrorists by far, making it difficult to decide who to concentrate on. In a sense, it is not possible to see the forest for the trees. From the point of view of Big Data analysis, one could say that everyone is a suspect. This does not only pose legal concerns; it also does not work well.

And what happens now?

If you ask business people, many of them will tell you that the world's problems would best be solved if the state stopped interfering with them. The argument is that companies are more efficient than public institutions (which, however, are supposed to execute orders, not to be innovative). Additionally, the idea is that the most efficient companies will prevail. Finally, a few monopolies will remain, which use the world's resources in the most efficient way thanks to "economies of scale". Therefore, international agreements such as TTIP and TISA essentially seem to minimize the influence of politics and the state and to privatize goods and services which were previously public. It is likely that public administration will also be privatized on a large scale. There are significant changes ahead, and that's why nobody wants to talk about this. Sadly, the debate about chlorinated chicken distracts the public from the truly fundamental points.

Why are politicians doing this?

These changes promise benefits for policymakers too. They would get a kind of digital scepter, a tool to control society and the behavior of people. Some believe that the world could be optimized with it, but I have serious doubts that this can ever work. The deal with the business world seems to be that harmful products would not be forbidden (or if they were, then citizens would have to pay for lost profits). Instead, the state would manipulate the opinions, decisions and behavior of citizens using personalized information. This would mean a digital takeover. For the consumer and citizen it would mean gradual disempowerment. In the end, however, this would be bad for policymakers too. "Big nudging" is not efficient enough to solve the global problems caused by human behavior (to ensure healthy and environmentally friendly behavior, for example). Therefore, a "citizen score" would sooner or later be introduced and each of our behaviors (and our likely behaviors and those of the social contacts influencing us) would be positively or negatively rated, such that our own future would be increasingly determined by the state. Sooner or later, we would end up with a form of digital totalitarianism, or data dictatorship. The victims of this "brave new world" would be the citizens. They would lose their freedom but would anyway have to pay for the sustainability costs (and for lost profits in case the state decided to withdraw from certain harmful technologies). In spite of this, the problems would not be resolved. Not only do these costs sum up to amounts that nobody could ever pay for. We would also be confronted with new problems and even bigger ones.

What are you talking about?

We would end up with a Feudalism 2.0, where, thanks to the use of digital technologies, resources and power would be concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. As a result, less and less resources would be used to solve everyone's problems. The fate of all of us would depend on the decisions of very few people. Basic principles of justice and democracy, which were achieved over centuries, would be sacrificed. But that is not all: the economic development would be pretty bad. Most products would be manufactured by robots. Many services would be generated by algorithms using artificial intelligence. There would be a huge army of unemployed people. Purchasing power would collapse and bring the economy down. Most companies would go bankrupt. About 40 percent of top 500 companies would disappear in 10 years' time. 

As citizens would not be appeased with bread and games in the long run, there would be political and social unrests, revolutions and wars. That happened already during the transition from the agrarian to the industrial society, and later to the service society – thus, it should be a warning to us. As a result of such developments, many people would not only lose their jobs, but also their lives. Cynically enough, some people view this as the solution to our problems. But this time, it could mean the end of human civilization (due to the possible use of ABC weapons). Even if it would not come so bad, given that we live in a multicultural globalized world, the next conflict would not only take place between alliances of countries. The war would be everywhere — in the middle of our modern society. In the end something akin to the Nuremberg trials would take place again, to bring those to justice, who were responsible for the foreseeable disaster. It would really be wiser to take another historical path.

What alternatives do we have?

We need massive innovation. A citizen score would be absolutely counterproductive for this. It would promote opportunism and conformism, rather than increasing people’s readiness to take risks and to question existing solutions — something, which is absolutely essential now.

It is also high time to make the Big Data and Artificial Intelligence tools currently available, such as “cognitive computing”, accessible to all scientists or even all interested people. This would significantly increase the capacity and speed of innovation and ensure greater transparency and democratic control.

We also need a fundamentally new approach to innovation that puts more emphasis on open innovation than today, in order to offer all of the products and services that are currently not provided by large companies. Citizen science, so-called Fablabs (public centers for communities of digital hobbyists), as well as initiatives to mobilize civil society are becoming increasingly important. The key word is co-creation, which means that citizens can augment information, knowledge, services and products in a largely open information and innovation ecosystem. Obviously, this does not preclude commercialization. On the contrary, it would create opportunities for everyone to earn money with data. The citizens and the customers would become partners. The participatory society of the future will not only build on large global corporations. Businesses of all types and sizes and self-employment will play an even bigger role than today. This is a good thing because monopolies are known to be comparatively little innovative, and they rarely care about products and services that will not generate a significant return, say, of 20 percent.

What else could be done?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the right framework for a "Plurality University", which would generate knowledge in real time (as much as this is possible) and would share it instantly worldwide. In the digital age, we must reinvent innovation, from research to publication to teaching. 

We also need to think more about ways to foster the spirit of experimentation. Too many inventions are merely modest improvements of existing ideas, so-called linear innovation, which extend the life cycle of "old" products. Instead, we need to encourage radically new ideas, sometimes referred to as "disruptive innovations". In many places of the world, this will need more venture capital. The latter could, in part, come from investment funds. Today, companies funnel unprecedentedly high dividends to their shareholders, which means that they could afford to invest more. Instead of paying out all surpluses as dividends, some of this money could form part of a venture capital fund to invest in innovations.

And how do we ensure that innovations lead to more sustainable products?

Sadly, the hope that the planet would recover from all stresses and strains by itself has not materialized. Externalities, which refer to the external costs or benefits associated with products, services or interactions, need to be measured and priced. Big Data and the Internet of Things (IoT) make it increasingly possible to do this. In fact, this is probably the only way to save liberty.

Interestingly, the measurement and pricing of externalities would make regulation largely unnecessary. Nowadays, however, many entrepreneurs and inventors are hampered by over-regulation. We need to sweep this out of the way.

Finally, if we were to trade externalities such as  financial derivatives, this would create entirely new financial markets. That would unleash enormous economic potential. A multi-dimensional financial system would also allow enirely new applications such as self-organizing socio-economic systems, which require various incentive mechanisms. In many cases, the application of decentralization approaches and self-organization principles could increase the resource efficiency by 30 to 40 percent.

But how would you reduce the number of conflicts in the world?

First of all, the competition for scarce resources needs to be mitigated. This can be achieved by the combination of several measures. First, resources need to be used more efficiently (see above). Second, recycling techniques need to be advanced. Third, a quickly growing pool of data must be opened for everyone's value creation, and the principles of the sharing economy should be applied to an increasing number of areas of social and economic life, including how urban space is managed and used. This would enable a higher standard of living for more people while decreasing the consumption of resources. In order to reduce war and terrorism, we need to pay more attention to the living conditions in the rest of the world. This is particularly true of North Africa and the Middle East. That would perhaps be the most effective way to protect European security interests.

Furthermore, we must learn that, in a multicultural society, punishment mechanisms often do not cause social order, but rather escalation of conflict. This has been observed not only in the Middle East, but also in Ferguson, and many other places. Therefore, we need new mechanisms to promote coordination and cooperation in a multi-cultural world. This is one of our recent research areas. Certain reputation mechanisms are promising in this regard, but also qualification, competition, communication and matching mechanisms. 

Last but not least, engaging in a "Cultural Genome Project" could achieve a better understanding of the success principles, on which different cultures are built. This would allow us to combine them in innovative ways and enable us to generate new social and economic value. The greatest potential of this approach lies directly on today's cultural fault lines. By the way, we will also build some of these cultural success mechanisms into the Nervousnet platform, so that our "data for all" approach will lead to responsible use.

Wouldn't the Nervousnet platform make people’s lives even more transparent than today?

No, because we take informational self-determination seriously. The data storage is decentralized and we use procedures to anonymize, encrypt and "forget" data. Each user will be able to decide for themselves which data they want to produce or share. Imagine that all the data you generate is sent to a personal data store, where it can be sorted and managed by category. Given appropriate legal regulations, you would then be able decide what kind of data to share with whom, and for what purpose. Thus, more trusted companies would have access to more data. This would stimulate competition for trust, and the data-driven society would be built on trust again.

All of this sounds exciting, but do you really believe your ideas will ever be implemented?

Yes, I think so, for two reasons. First of all, because we are forced to be much more innovative than today. Second, because it would bring great benefits to everyone to implement these proposals. I am just not sure whether it will take a societal catastrophe — the ultimate failure of the totalitarian and feudal approach — to change our current way of thinking. In the worst case, this would mean a kind of Armageddon. However, I think we should be clever enough to avoid this. Luckily, there are also encouraging signs.

What are they?

The USA have started to invest in a new strategy. They are betting on a combination of reindustrialization on the one hand, and citizen science and combinatorial innovation on the other. Even Google has embarked on a new strategy with the founding of Alphabet, which aims to make the company less dependent on personalized advertising. And Apple has recognized the value of privacy as a competitive advantage. As always, the United States is faster! I admire the will and ability of the United States to always be at least one step ahead.

People increasingly understand that the digital economy is not a zero-sum game. In the area of the Internet of Things, Google has engaged in open innovation, and it recently made its Tensorflow Artificial Intelligence software open source. Tesla Motors has opened up many of its patents, and many billionaires have recently promised to donate large sums of money for good. So, we see many signs of change. The benefit of open information exchange is becoming increasingly evident. Sharing information often increases the value of information, inventions, and companies. If properly organized, the digital economy provides almost unlimited possibilities because intangible goods can be reproduced as often as we like. In fact, more and more money will be earned in virtual worlds. This relates not just to computer games; Bitcoin has even shown that bits can be transformed into gold. Almost nobody believed that this were possible. 

So, the only question is when Europe will finally make use of the fantastic opportunities afforded by the digital revolution. We are entering a digital age that increasingly frees itself of material limitations. I find this absolutely fascinating!