Technology requires a different role from government

23 January 2015 - Technological innovations are succeeding one another with increasing speed, and are interconnecting more and more. Technology is coming ever closer to us, even right into our bodies. Innovations have a major impact on how we live and on social and moral values such as privacy and transparency. That is the conclusion reached by the Dutch Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Rli) in its Survey of Technological Innovations in the Living Environment. Technology will influence our lives more and more, often before we have jointly given it careful consideration. The Rli believes that government should organise broader public debates, at an earlier stage, about the impact of innovations on our values.

Drones, 4D printing, synthetic biology, artificial intelligence: these are just a few examples of technological innovations in the fields of healthy food, efficient mobility, and smart buildings that are set to change our environment. The Council foresees new and faster dynamics in technological advances, with closer interaction between technology and society. These dynamics challenge government’s ability to adapt. Government will need to participate in a different way in existing and new networks because that’s where the closer interaction between technology and society takes shape. It is no longer a matter of either the market or government. Government bodies, businesses, knowledge institutions, civil-society organisations, private individuals will all work together much more frequently within networks, and all will take the initiative and responsibility at various times.

It is people who direct technological advances, but those advances also influence our social and moral values. An ever-increasing number of our activities - at home, when we are eating or relaxing, and on the road - are being supported by smart technology. Smart technology can increase our range of choices and our autonomy, but it can also raise questions about such things as control of our bodies and our privacy. If the data we collect about our activities and health become public, it can have more far-reaching consequences than the unauthorised distribution of a photo. At the same time, technology is also changing the importance that we attach to certain values. A lot of us now take a different view of making phone calls in public or sharing private photos on the Internet than we did fifteen years ago. It is to be expected that a shift in how we view the importance of privacy will also be apparent in ten years’ time. But how will that play out? Will the trend towards less privacy continue, or will we strongly resist infringements of our privacy? The question is whether the ultimate goal should be the absolute protection of personal data or specifically a situation of greater trust and autonomy, with more understanding and control of the operation of algorithms.

Technological advances in the fields of food, mobility, and buildings are together having a major impact on our living environment, both in towns and cities and in the regions outside them. In its survey, the Council poses five pressing policy questions concerning: the public interest as regards the data infrastructure; the impact of data on values; the organisation of public debate; the impact of technological innovation on spatial planning and infrastructure; and the changing role of government.

Conference on ‘Connecting the Dots’ - 30 January 2015

So as to encourage discussion of the five policy questions, the Rli is organising a conference at which participants will be invited to contribute ideas, both live and online. A number of leading thinkers and innovators have been invited to present their views and to enter into discussion with the participants. The speakers will be Prof. Carlota Perez (London School of Economics), Prof. Kent Larson (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Dr André Kuipers (European Space Agency), Prof. Jaap Seidell (VU University Amsterdam), and Bryant Walker Smith (Stanford Law School). The discussions will be chaired by Prof. Peter-Paul Verbeek (University of Twente). On behalf of the Minister of Economic Affairs, the Secretary-General Maarten Camps will take receipt of the digital magazine comprising the survey and will give an initial response.

Date: 30 January 2015, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Location: Media Plaza, Utrecht

Read more about the conference ‘Connecting the Dots’

Read the programme

Note for editors

To request interviews and to sign up for the conference, please contact Miep Eisner (Communications Adviser):, +31 (0)6 15369339. For information about the actual content of the Survey of Technological Innovations in the Living Environment and the conference ‘Connecting the Dots’, please contact Lianne Doeswijk (Project Leader):, +31 (0)6 15369331.

The digital magazine about the survey will be available via from 1 p.m. on 30 January 2015.