Digitalization and Societal Innovation in a Systems Perspective

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Eva BUCHINGER, Innovation Systems, Austrian Institute of Technology AIT, Austria
Some aspects of digitalization seem at first resemble those of industrialization. For both it is true that technological advancement is linked with deep societal transformation contributing to well-being as wells as to class divide. In the case of digitalization the class divide is digital divide, i.e. those who are digitally included and those who are digitally excluded. But a closer look reveals also a big difference in the processes of industrialization and digitalization. Whereas the process of industrialization was mainly shaped by entrepreneurs as producers, the process of digitalization seems to be shaped by a phenomenon called ‘prosumer’. Both processes consist of an interplay between producers and consumers but in the latter the consumers are not only users of goods and services provided by the industry but contribute actively. Societal innovation is therefore not mainly reactive as it was in the course of the industrial revolution when the workforce had to be protected by labour legislation, but proactive because millions and even billions of users worldwide produce content (or data-traces for the production of content). In social systems theory terminology the locus of societal innovation is shifting from function systems (economy, science, politics, law etc.) to personal systems respectively digitally connected networks of personal systems. Coming back to the notion of digital divide this means that those who are digitally connected are actively taking part in present societal innovation as ‘technobohemians’ whereas those who are digitally disconnected are either excluded or only passively involved as ‘net slaves’ or ‘cybertariats’, the digital version of former proletariats (Gill). Beyond that, a third locus of societal innovation may emerge via artificial intelligence and autonomous technical systems such as robots and thus create a further form of digital divide. The text will especially discuss the different loci of societal innovation in the digital era.