Internet consolidation at EuroDIG 2019: Questions in need of an answer

On behalf of SIDN I was the focal point and moderator of the workshop on internet consolidation at EuroDIG in The Hague, June 2019. The following is the official report of the workshop I wrote and published on the EuroDIG wikipage. It is followed by the questions that remained open and identified potential next steps forward.

The fact that this workshop was able to tie into a previous workshop on internet consolidation at the IGF in Paris, November 2018 provided focus and allowed for considerable steps to be made in The Hague. Here is the report.

The report
At EuroDIG 2019 a workshop was organised around the topic of consolidation on the Internet. It was organised around four angles: technique, competition, society and human rights and; future research. One thing became extremely clear: no one contested that consolidation is taking place nor that this already has and will have an impact on the Internet and consecutively on society. There also was consensus that this topic is not going away, that addressing it is urgent and more study/research and interaction between stakeholders is necessary. If anything, the workshop led to more questions being asked than answers given, which is telling in itself.

What is consolidation?
Consolidation, in this specific context, is the process by which internet activities and businesses get increasingly integrated, both vertically and horizontally or more simply put: where many of the same suddenly becomes fewer of the same. Another term often heard in this context is centralisation. This term is used when users have to go through one central point, e.g. to use a specific service or access a specific database. The two terms are not interchangeable.

A study by the Internet Society ( shows that consolidation takes place at different levels of the internet. Applications, access provision, service infrastructure are mentioned, but beyond that deep dependencies are created e.g. through total service environments.

Potential consequences of consolidation
In the Internet governance sphere the topic of consolidation was raised by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It flagged the topic as important, something other stakeholders needed to learn more about. Jari Arkko presented on the topic at an IGF workshop in Paris, November 2018 ( The outcome led to a follow up workshop at EuroDIG dedicated fully to the topic.

In short, it was explained, the internet works because all involved, “the many to many”, follow universal, mandatory and voluntary open source rules and procedures, so called internet standards. Now that the many become less and less, it changes the internet and internet governance procedures. When one or a few organisations control large parts of the internet, they also come to control access to the internet, to data, determine success or failure of innovative products, privacy, free speech, etc. This leads to important questions societies need to address. Many of these major questions were asked during the workshop, fundamental questions that in part go right into the sort of society we all want to live in.

Already there are companies at the service level, in online retail, social media, search engines, DNS queries, etc. so big that they hold large percentages of the market and dominate at a regional and even global level. This comes with a large economic power, political influence, the (potential) stifling or co-opting of innovation, etc. Competition rules are looked at to establish fair play and a level playing field, but do they?

Although there was no explicit consensus in the room, looking at the discussion with an helicopter view shows that the process of consolidation leads to feelings of discomfort and unease from all sides. Whether people have a background in business, human rights, access to data and services, etc., they all have questions in need of an answer towards both actions in the present as the outcome in the future. Academia aside, they all look to others, e.g. governments, competition authorities and policymakers for action and to provide answers.

Potential next steps
Competition law
An important remark at the session was the following: We already have competition laws, so why would we need new ones? There was no direct answer to this question, yet is important to follow up on. It was pointed out e.g that there is a need to look at companies and their strategies in different ways. Market power could also be measured in (the availability of) access to data and not just in traditional market shares or by looking differently at overall strategies of companies in the case of mergers or acquisitions. There is a need for a debate whether current, mostly national. competition law is sufficient within a global, internet environment.

Many in the room were alerted to the fact that the Dutch competition authority (ACM) had concluded a study into market power of Apple’s app store and concluded that a formal investigation was called for (

Technical solutions
From the technical community came the question: ”What do you want us to do”? Several possible future technical measures and solutions were suggested. E.g. to create better functioning interfaces that allow access to systems or opening up social media systems. There came no concrete answer from the non-technical community, except the conclusion that consolidation is a non-technical topic. The people responding stated that consolidation is an economic/competition law issue, so regulatory. There seems to remains one obvious role for technicians: flagging and explaining, but let’s not conclude yet whether there is no role, as the technical community sees a potential role for itself. E.g. in assisting smaller companies to collaborate in a better way. The value of these measures have to become clear.

Net neutrality
Another point made in this context was the need for net neutrality as this creates a situation of equal access for all. Another topic for future debate was identified.

Interaction between stakeholders
Overall there was one major development compared to Paris in November 2018. It became clear that there’s a need to get to know each other, as some stakeholders were not familiar with each other, let alone with the work going on within their respective silo’s. If anything, this was the step forward set between the session in Paris and the work leading up to the workshop in The Hague. The sharing of knowledge could lead to new actions within respective silo’s. Whether by taking measures at the technical level, as information that authorities need to build cases on or as suggestions for using current policies or to create new ones. It was suggested to look into these options.

The good, the bad and the absent
Many people raised concerns, yet it proved hard to provide concrete, negative examples coming out of consolidation. “I cannot run my own private mail server anymore”, was the most concrete one. A conclusion that can be drawn is that it seems that at this point in time those actively involved have grave concerns, because market power has come to rest in too few hands. A situation that may come with potential negative effects (soon). Attention was drawn to the fact that not all stakeholders seem aware of the current developments and what they (may come to) mean to their respective positions and interests. On the other hand, ISOC’s study shows the advantages of consolidation in e.g. cloud services and the global reach they provide even the smallest companies, although they come or may come soon with a vendor lock in, as it becomes impossible to switch to another provider (with ease).

So what are next steps? The workshop made clear that doors to other silo’s need to be opened. Knowledge needs to be exchanged and organisations can assist each other in developing answers to questions that are in need of an answer. Coordination between different stakeholders could be set up and there is a strong need to provide convincing examples whether consolidation is a good and/or a bad development. Finally, missing stakeholders need to be actively invited to these meetings.

This workshop contributed in a meaningful way to the debate on consolidation. It provided enlightenment to those involved, despite the fact that many questions remained in place. Fact is, many were raised for the first time with other stakeholders present. Questions that are in need of an answer that will take multiple stakeholders participating in the formulation of those answers. This starts with sharing experience and knowledge among each other. Conditions were created at EuroDIG in The Hague to do so.

Wout de Natris
Workshop focal point consolidation on behalf of SIDN
De Natris Consult

Questions in need of answers
– For now the following questions and action points were identified.
– A need to identify and understand the working of each layer of the internet within this context
– A need to identify and understand the current situation in each layer of the internet
– Establish the link between consolidation and net neutrality
– Does net neutrality also need to take into account free speech and innovation?
– Identify how each stakeholder community can contribute to answering identified questions
– Identify current and potential actions within and among stakeholder communities
– Establish how contributions from other stakeholders can assist (the actions of) others
– Do “classic” competition laws work for the internet or is this a truly new environment?
– “The people” do not seem to worry. Should they? and if so, how do we tell them?
– What can (the strategy behind) mergers and acquisitions tell us about consolidation?
– Is there a need for standardisation in regulatory reporting to truly make comparisons or conclusions at the global level?
– Are security threats limited or rising because of consolidation?
– In what way can enabling smaller players from a technical point of view become an alternative to consolidation?
– How can consolidation be measured and quantified?

A word of gratitude
This workshop was made possible through the support of SIDN but would not have had this impact without the valuable input of Carl Gahnberg, Cristian Hesselman, David Korteweg, Jari Arkko, Marie-Noémie Marquez, Zoey Tung Barthelemy and all who contributed actively in the workshop itself or shared ideas in the preparatory process. The EuroDIG secretariat’s Rainer Rodewald facilitated the whole process in a professional and extremely kind way.

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Chances and opportunities or the U.S., the E.U. and privacy regulation

The European Parliament recently sent a letter to the U.S. government expressing its concerns on the U.S. government’s demands on U.S. companies to deliver (privacy sensitive) data stored in Europe to the U.S. enforcement and security agencies when so requested. U.S. court cases concerning this topic are confusing and contradictory, the stance of the U.S. government as such is not. Neither is the privacy law of the E.U. A clear case of non-compatible laws.

What surprises me is that Europe in general always complains about the dependence on U.S. cyber moguls. If this demand of the U.S. government shows anything, than it is opportunities for E.U. cloud and data companies to step into the void the U.S. companies are about to leave behind.

It is a fair question whether, due to the restricting rules of GDPR, the amount of privacy sensitive data stored today can ever be as big as it presently is. Fact is that the data companies want to store need to be compliant with E.U. privacy laws. Where better to store this data than within Europe with companies that assist their customers to be compliant?

So people let’s stop complaining and expressing concerns and step into the market, head up high and grab the opportunities presented for free by an unbending U.S. government.

The E.P. focused in its letter on the risk of splitting up the Internet because of the U.S.’s actions. The Internet is already splitting as actions of different eastern countries show. It may be time that the E.U. starts to prepare for something that might be inevitable. Even if it is just in case or as a case study. It’s always better to be well prepared. Boosting an industry is one such preparatory step in that direction and economically sound to.

Wout de Natris

Haarlem, 2 February 2018

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How the West was won or protecting data

The Internet world shook once again this week with the revelation of military, strategic information leaked by a sports app. By running around the compound soldiers gave away their position to the app, that dutifully offered this information to the world, transparent as it is. It became worse. Researchers were able to track individual soldiers to their private addresses simply by connecting available data and thus revealing the identity of soldiers working in highly classified circumstances. This is just one aspect of where things seem to go horribly wrong.

It is not surprising to me that apps reveal data of its users. What does come as something of a shock is the fact that even in organisations that snoop on the world with unprecedented capacities the naiveté concerning simple apps is still so high. It is 2018 and still the military and undoubtedly dozens of other organisations around the globe are surprised by a single app that tracks the fitness and running scores of individuals using the app. And I will not even go into privacy implication here.

From this information it becomes clear that still there are no clear rules on the use of apps, social media, fitbits, etc. vis à vis the workplace. This is not just about the military but about each and every individual, next to the millions of people working in high(er) level trust environments. Was this app installed on a work phone or a private phone brought to work? It should not matter in these circumstances. It shouldn’t be on the phone, in these circumstances, at all.

The news so far focused on the fact that an app revealed this data. If we look one level further down into the app, the question is where does the software come from? Who else is able to gather this data -and who knows what else data from the phone or laptop- either through the software used in the app, what is the origin of the chips used to build the app and is the data sold in any form to third parties?

Ever since the journalists Maurits Martijn and Dimitri Tokmetzis showed that by installing one single app (in this example of a large Dutch department store) on a smartphone, dozens of, mostly unknown firms from North America were able to access all information on that phone every few seconds to auction this information off to advertisement companies, I am very weary of apps on my phone. What apps are really for, data gathering, ought to be common knowledge by now. Perhaps not by the general public but certainly by those is positions where the secrecy of certain data is key. Including rules and regulations concerning the use of apps.

Again the news shows that the knowledge and understanding of the Information Society simply does not seem to get between the ears of those responsible. It makes me dread the moment that the West really comes into a conflict with adversaries. I’m afraid that we will find out the hard way that we really haven’t seen anything yet.

Hence the question becomes whether an open Internet for all is something the West must strive for. The balkanisation of the Internet is becoming a fact fast. China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, etc. are all becoming less and less open to the West. We remain open and highly vulnerable to attacks of all sorts of nature. Is it time to contemplate a wall around us as well?

This question is a far jump from the data revealed by a sports app. Yet it is all related. Each individual incident shows the weakness in our defences. It is time to rethink and strengthen ourselves as well, without giving away anything on the inside. Free speech, economic benefits and protection of the core of the Internet are all possible within our system. Who wants to live beyond these rules, suffers the consequences. Most likely economically to.

What the sports app data revealed does show, is the level of openness our western society has reached. There is no going back on that. Perhaps there is a way of protecting it better. It will be drastic though.

Wout de Natris

Haarlem, 31-01-2018

Posted in Cyber awareness, Cyber education, Cyber espionage, Cyber security, Cyber warfare, Privacy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Options for the Digital Transition

Over the past years I’ve written repeatedly about the digital transition. In 2015 I organised and moderated a workshop on behalf of the Dutch national Internet Governance Forum, NLIGF, on this topic at the IGF in João Pessoa in Brazil. This workshop looked at the digital transition from a few angles: education, permissionless innovation, privacy and politics. The results were somewhat disconcerting as a room filled with (inter)national experts concluded that education was running far behind developments. No one present was able to point to the new kind of jobs that a transition usually brings. Privacy was under severe pressure, e.g. from algorithms that were seen as black boxes and politicians were near ignorant of these developments. All saw the thriving permissionless innovation, with participating (Internet) engineers who could not wait to see where the world is moving towards. The report NLIGF published can be found here: under workshop 48, ‘Internet of Things. Ethics for the Digital Age’.

This topic a such is far from new. With every mechanical innovation a loss of jobs came; that were replaced by other, often jobs that required an higher education. Probably since the invention of the wheel. Looking with an optimistic view it isn’t hard to conclude that the same will happen here, although it does take education and I’ll return to that below. Perhaps these jobs lie just around the corner and we cannot see them yet.

It is a rather acute topic though. Some people have declared that Donald Trump was elected president by people who have lost their jobs to machines, with little chance of regaining a new job (that is meaningful to them). If true, the people who lost out to globalisation and further industrialisation made the rather small difference between win or lose. These people felt unheard and made their choice. It is the former part of this sentence that is important. It looks like a lot more people may get to this state and will want to be heard. Why?

The news

The reason I am writing right now is because of a few disconnected pieces of news that alerted me over the past days. “Software is able to decide on traffic management during traffic jams”. The software opens or closes an extra lane by studying camera footage. “First tests with driverless trains to start”. “70 km stretch of roads opened to automated car tests”. “Robots performing surgery”. All these tests are aimed at one thing: replacing workers for artificial intelligence: traffic management personnel, train drivers, lorry drives, taxi drivers and surgeons. What will these people do after they have been let off?

Mind, all the above our autonomous cases, not connected to each other. One company, a ministry, a university hospital, testing new software. All in their own cocoon. There’s one major communality. As soon as the software does what it is supposed to do at a satisfactory level it brings one thing: massive lay-offs, of people who will probably not find another meaningful job. My guess is this will probably happen around the same time. So massive lay-offs of people, mostly with a lower education, who now have meaningful, satisfying jobs.

This is where leadership comes in. As long as decisionmakers at the political level have not developed an awareness around the digital transition, as their own colleagues and other experts stated in João Pessoa they have not, let alone developed a vision of how to confront this transition, they will be surprised and overwhelmed of what these changes are going to bring to society.

In The Netherlands there is a strong call, a lobby to set up a digital team of policy leaders within the government. Yes, it is important to create favourable circumstances for businesses to develop further, yes, there are major opportunities for start ups and incumbent companies alike, yes cyber security is a major issue and yes, it is extremely important to educate our youth (and do not forget to re-educate those people losing jobs). It is even more important to develop a view on what sort of a society we all want to live in.  If we do not get this right, I am afraid that discontent is going to rage high in the coming decade. People are losing jobs and want to be heard and their numbers may grow exponentially when the software is able to fully take over. There is a little window of opportunity still open to take this question full on. In ten, perhaps even only five, years it will be too late. So what is it going to be? It’s time to add this last line to that manifesto.

Wout de Natris, Haarlem 31-03-2017

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Luddites of the 21st century unite, revisited

Some years ago I wrote a post on the fact that I saw the world automate fast and did not see a lot of people worrying about the consequences for their lives. Nobody was smashing automated production lines. Smashing smart phones and laptops. In fact, embrace of new technology by the masses probably never in history went this fast. Several and very different causes, among which globalisation, have led to a level of wealth that made these expensive tools and toys within reach of a vast number of people.

Now early on in 2017 it seems that discontent is all around. The hatred for institutions, experts, politicians, immigrants, the views of “others”, etc., is raging through societies leading to decisions and outcome of elections that, taken at face value, are not what rationality would dictate or even expect. It is time for change. In the following I will try to provide a way forward from the defaitistic future many see in front of us. First a sort of inventory.

The times they are a-changin’
Jobs are disappearing and not just by moving them to cheap labour countries, no, the cheapest form of labour is a machine doing the work of humans. A company like Philips has already moved production back from China to The Netherlands for a fully automated plant. So the work is back, but not the labour. I always wonder who is going to buy that product when everyone is out of work because of work replacement? Owners and shareholders do not benefit from no or little sales.

Isolation and nationalism lead to “me first” in everything. So in the end also to an Internet with high tariffs, little and expensive access, the end of net neutrality: in other words the much feared fragmentation of the Internet, “Balkanisation”, is around the corner more than ever. Now it may be true as a Dutch economy columnist wrote this week that it may offer all sorts of opportunities for EU companies, that are now without chance against major U.S. multinationals. It was not his favourite outcome, but at best second best.

Is this the way then that the Internet and its related products are smashed by 21st century Luddites? Through a movement of democratically elected parties and individuals who, taken from their thoughts and actions, are not so democratically inclined. An analogy with the early 1930s is necessary to make. It was the complacency of German politicians and industrialists that gave Hitler and his NSDAP the option to rule and then let him abolish democratic institutions to install a dictatorship within weeks after being given power. That complacency is all around again. Ideology has withered, capitalism in his loosest form is harmful to most people, religion has withered. Many people don’t belong to anything anymore, except perhaps as supporters of a team, where they see bored millionaires run after a ball here today, gone tomorrow for greener, pardon me, financially more attractive pastures. For many this situation hurts them in ways that are hard to explain, but there seems an urge to belong with many. Nationalistic organisations can be seen as a substitute.

A change in the workplace
We live in a world that is in transition. And that is scary. No one knows where we are going to wind up. In the past years I’ve been able to organise workshops around the theme of changing societies. No matter what experts were involved, no one saw answers, no one saw new jobs around the corner. The new jobs that have always come with transition. Yet they are announcing themselves undoubtedly. To find answers we have to listen better to industries that are in the middle of the transition. If anyone knows what these new jobs are, then it must be here.

For years I am hearing the Dutch technical community saying we have a total mismatch between demand and supply where students are involved. I heard it first in 2012 or 13 and now in 2017 things seem to have changed little. So what are the demands that change, the transitions taking place in our society and industry, asks for of our educational system? What curricula are in demand? And how do we make our children, our workforce of the future understand that it is important to take the courses and classes that will lead to jobs, instead of being educated for jobs that soon do not exist anymore? I know parents who seriously fear whether their children will ever hold a meaningful job.

In those same workshops elected members of parliaments stated that they do not see a vision on that future being discussed in their respective parliaments, that their colleagues do not grasp the transition we are all in. If this is the case, who is to lead before it is too late?

These are giant questions that need to be answered. The current discontent comes from uncertainty, the loss of jobs with no, meaningful, alternative in sight. Add to that the, stirred up, fear caused by the mass influx of refugees and the acts of terrorism. The result is a dangerous brew that drives people towards populist politicians profiting from and heightening that discontent, while feeding that fear without offering any actionable solution to any of the underlying problems.

Leadership comes in twos
It is all nice and fine to be negative about all this, but that does not make sense. So what are the alternatives? Politicians, assisted by their underlying force of policymakers, are chosen by the people to lead. It is time they do so, but not without the urge and assistance of those in the know. With the right information it is possible to change for the better.

Together tracks can be selected that assist people to new jobs that are in line with the demand. With the right information societies must be able to create curricula, courses and classes that match current demand. And when we are at it. Together we must be able to define policies on what is acceptable online and what not. Together we can make a serious start on how to make the Internet a safer place for all. Together we can ….. (fill in your favourite here).

It’s time to start thinking outside of the box, outside of that safe silo, even a little will make a difference. All developers around the Internet are doing that constantly, disrupting existing structures by the day. So all involved can learn here. If relevant parties do not step forward and start cooperating, the democratic world may step into that state of complacency soon and the result may be something I simply do not want to be involved in. So let’s get to work for the better.

Wout de Natris

Haarlem, 25 January 2017

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I’ve seen the future and I like/hate it revisited

In the winter of 2014 I wrote a blog post under the title ‘I’ve seen the future and I like/hate it’ (read here). In the post I wondered where the 21st century Luddites were. ICT, automation, artificial intelligence all threatened jobs, yet all those affected embraced smartphones and the Internet in droves. It seems I found them.

Brexit and Luddites
Fast forward to early summer 2016. Brexit is a fact and the world is in confusion, including the Brexit leaders, as my strong suspicion is they never wanted to win, just keep on clamouring. That aside, I have found my 21st century Luddites among the Brexit voters, all the people hoping to have similar referenda in other EU countries and potential Trump voters in the U.S. The people who feel left behind, replaced by foreigners and with little alternative to the jobs lost when mills and mines closed.

1830 and Luddites
In 1830 people lived in small worlds. Unconnected, with little view on the world beyond the next village or market town, let alone on high politics in the capitol. Threats by steam engines, trains and factories were very direct and there was little room for influence. There was no vote, so all that remained was violence towards the landlord, the machines or both. Not so different from present day looting.

Jobs of the past?
In 2016 the same sort of threats become apparent. All sorts of jobs are disappearing and with developments going as they are, more will disappear. Taxi drivers, truck drivers, secretaries, bank employees, caissières, etc., etc. are all up for being let off. As I already pointed to recently, of children now in schools, 65% will be in jobs that do not exist presently.

Access to information
In 2016 people are able to have views, vote, inform themselves, but strangely enough the more access parts of the public has towards information, the more it focus on its own segment, on what it knows, believes. There is less discourse, just coarseness it seems.

Jobs of the future?
In past two centuries new job opportunities opened themselves each and every time. From farm hands, to factories and from rural areas to cities. From factory into services. From services to ?? Entertainment? Pasttime? We do not really know yet. ICT (security) needs millions of people soon, so I’m reading for a few years. So, from services to ICT? As I wrote recently, then education needs to speed up with the relevant curricula, while industry better be very specific of its needs, so that people can be (re-)trained for that shift in jobs.

History and ICT
Another point which I think becomes more and more important is teaching history. People need to know where they come from to better understand where they are now and where they are (most likely) going. No matter the economic slumps in the past 8 years, on average people in the country where I come from and those around me, never had it this good. This depression in no way relates to the one in the 1930s. Yet dissatisfaction is so huge. Disappointment and anger are all around. Teaching history can do something about that. With ICT in classrooms history can be presented in all sorts of modern ways, making it extremely interesting to look at and learn from. There’s no need to leave history to the National Geographic Channel or Discovery.

So again, education is what this world needs. More than ever, I’d say, to make sure that as many people as possible move into the next quarter of the 21st century well prepared for the tasks at hand. Only that way society will make the shift into the Digital Age with all on board, in jobs, leading fulfilling lives.

And now forward
At this point too many people live in fear of globalisation, the Internet, immigration, while this, at least in theory, but often in practice leads to wealthier lives. I ended the previous post on Luddites that it is important to stop fear. This has not changed since 2014. Ending fear starts with leaders. And now I see a challenge. Many leaders lead in fear, not in sound views on the way forward, with explanations and alternatives. Having won the fear battle, they step down as fast as they can. People need alternatives and ICT can offer that. Start making work of it. And, by the way. Who’s stopping industry from leading the pack on educational reforms? We could all benefit.

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The Digital Age and education of the future

For some years I hear people discuss that education needs to transform and adapt to the Digital Age. In one way education has: I am told that so called MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, are a huge success. Classes from lecturers at (top) universities are freely available online. But this is traditional education distributed and made accessible in a modern form. The debate ought to focus on education for the jobs and skills of the future. There are a few issues that come by in the discussion on education:

1) The Internet industry demands courses that are not readily available for the jobs on offer;
2) Teachers are not trained to train the pupils on digital skills;
3) Young teachers are demotivated and leave schools for other jobs;
4) Children are more involved with social media and Netflix and (too) easily distracted in class.

This post is not claiming that it has answers to any of these issues, but I will try to come back to each point, with a main focus on the first two.

In the meantime
Since I started writing on this post nearly two weeks week ago, a deluge of messages on the topic has reach me through different media, which I’ve tried to incorporate or mention. To name a few. Liberal party D66 published a report on the need for better digital education. The Economist published an article on post-graduate digital education. A high school student organisation gave off a message that 20% of the students think the digital skills of teachers are below par (with me hoping that the other 80%’s demands are met but dreading that they do not realise the lack of knowledge). The announcement of an intermediate professional school starting a cyber track.

Classroom/school ethics
What surprised me is that the news seems to be that teachers (and parents) have given up on the use of the smartphone in class. “The parents demand it” as the child needs to be reachable or so is the argument I hear. What for, if they are in school? You can reach them in times of distress through school, can’t you? The world may come to face a generation that is not used to not be on social media, not not watching Netflix series any time, not having a distraction every few seconds and not gaming on whatever devices for a lot of time on end.

How hard is it to have a general prohibition of phones in the class room? If that is the problem? If no kid in any classroom has a smartphone on him, the problem is solved. We will just have to wait and see what the end result of children always online and permanently distracted is when they enter higher education and after that the workforce.

The advice seems so simple. A prohibition on phones in the classroom for all. That is including the teacher.

New jobs
More interesting, for me that is, is the debate around new jobs. What are these jobs, I wonder? They tend to run in the millions within a few years, or so I always read. Looking at it from an one dimensional view: If I walk around a data centre I see endless rows of servers connecting something to someone, but what I hardly see is people, excluding the people of the cleaning service. Just machines with lots of lights and loads of wires. Once in operation it seems people are no longer necessary. Looking broader there is a need for software developers, cyber security experts, system administrators, etc. But how many exactly are we talking about and what are demands called for? And what are these new jobs? Another recent publication gives some answers.

The World Economic Forum published a top 10 of jobs that did not exist ten years ago. The top three being: app developer; social media manager and Uber driver. At least two of the three are there because of the surge in technology that smart phones brought to the world. Some claim that 65% of children in school today will end up in jobs that do not exist today. (Note the difference in educational requirements!)

The need to transform education
These facts and figures attest to the need for change, although, interestingly enough, all these jobs came into being without specialised training and education. As demands will change, in numbers and specific requirements, adaptation by educational institutions is called for. This comes with an important question that policymakers have to answer: What is hype and what is not?

Recently news came out that intermediate professional schools in The Netherlands are pumping out game designers by the thousand and then some more a year, while the industry needs something in the order of 10 (ten) a year. All after a hype started by someone from within the branch. Need and hype have to be looked into seriously before education tracks are developed. The answer to the question what are the new jobs of the future? is important to get right for several reasons.

The same goes for higher education programs. Coders, developers, security, lawyers, marketers, etc. For some education already exist or need some amendment, for others perhaps not yet. It is important to define that need as explicit as possible. That way policymakers and schools can set up new education programs that fit demand and numbers.

Impact on the general public
What is obvious is that within a decade it has become virtually impossible to live without accessing the Internet. Even if it is only to do business with your bank or the government. Internet access has become a necessity. In general there undoubtedly is a need to prepare the general public (of the future) for a life with the Internet and all its pleasures and dangers.

There is another aspect and this was an important part of the debate that was held in Workshop #48 that The Netherland’s IGF (NLIGF) organised at the Internet Governance Forum in Brazil in 2015. Several major concerns were voiced here around education. Artificial Intelligence and robotisation will impact society as a whole and bring changes to jobs and job demands. With that comes that it is hard to predict what people need to be trained for, while at the same time it is obvious that several lines of education will become unnecessary soon. Simply because jobs disappear. Higher end jobs as well as skilled labour jobs. Will these people fall by the way side or is there an ambition for re-training them? In comes skilled teachers, again.

So, where to start?
The better children are prepared for the Digital Age the better. This goes for elementary background information as well as basic training in skills like e.g. building a website and basic online security. I think coding should be one of the languages on offer. Children usually do not learn these things as a user. They seem adapt to an older generation because of their gaming skills and speed of typing in messages on the smartphone, this however is not the same as working with the tools on offer. Most are users.

On average these classes would prepare them better for the Digital Age. At best these lessons interest a sufficient number of the pupils to take up tertiary education in this direction and make a career in the digital realm.

These lessons need teachers and they are not trained as well, perhaps even more behind when they are more advanced in age. Can a society afford to not offer its teachers courses here and thus train the new generation? I think it is already long overdue.

A new role for industry?
Is there a role for industry here? Yes, in several ways.

1. Formulate demands
Industry needs to be very specific in what they expect from schools and universities. Only then funds that are scarce can be used most effectively to train the future workforce.
2. Teach
People working in industry may be needed to give some very specialist classes in these education programs.
3. Fund
Industry is able to co-fund education. An example is Cisco that funds a two year cyber security education program with US$ 10 million. There is, claims Cisco, a “digital skills gap” in general and in cyber security more specifically.
4. Identify explicitly
So here it’s possible to identify one specific need for industry (and society as a whole), cyber security.

As said, industry needs to be more specific in its demands on education and could play several roles itself. This is a different way forward then what The Economist reported on post-grad cyber boot camps re-training graduates for universities. The point is not should these commercial companies providing the bootcamp be financed with government money, no, it shows just that what universities fail in: training its students properly for their future. Liberal Arts and ICT? Why not?

5. Teach some more
Why not assist in training the teachers needed in the classrooms?

There are several important ways industry can work with governments and schools to assist in closing the skills gap. All sides need to be open towards transformation of education.

To conclude
With incredible speed we have moved into the Digital Age and may be just at the start of major disruptive developments that change the way we look at our lives, our work, our pastime and thus our education programmes. The developments are not waiting for us to catch up.

How to proceed? From what I hear there is a lot of chicken egg type discussions going about. For industry, it all starts with knowing yourself/your organisation and your needs. From there a dialogue is much more focused and choices easier to be made. Why wait if you know what you need? For government, find out what demands are and facilitate education and, do not hesitate with training teachers so that the curriculum of children in school and universities aligns with expectations. For schools set smartphone rules, now. And teachers, demand a better education for yourself on digital skills from your school and society. Our future depends on your assertiveness and on that happening.

Wout de Natris

Haarlem, 23 June 2016

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