In China, facial recognition systems automatically identify individuals from a database of digital images. These biometric computer applications are now being used  in areas such as public security, financial services, transport and retail across the country. It has become a very efficient method to find for example suspects searched by the police. This measure can lead on one hand to more security in public space, but on the other hand raises questions about privacy and data security. How is the data collected and what will happen to it?

Science fiction turns into reality

This scenario is not science fiction, but reality in China . Technology will change worldwide how we travel, work, shop, get-well, communicate and stay informed. In short: how we live. Great new possibilities are opening up. However, with it new challenges and questions that needs to be answered. We asked swissfuture, the Swiss Society for Future Studies, to identify for us the most relevant megatrends and their implications and challenges for Switzerland. Digitalization is itself a megatrend and was interpreted within this context. The following blog post aims to give you a short overview of the resulting report (in German) of swissfuture and summarize the most relevant challenges stemming from the megatrends. The report is intended to serve as the basis for the formulation of new roundtables and bets in the context of our digitalswitzerland challenge. Note: the views and recommendation of the report are not digitalswitzerland’s own.

From digitalization, to urbanization and the connectivity: The Megatrends

A trend is considered a megatrend, if it is epochal, global and ubiquitous. Besides digitalization, the growth of population (together with individualization) is considered a megatrend. Swissfuture estimates that until 2040, around 10 million people will live in Switzerland and in 2050, 9 billions worldwide. Hand in hand with these development goes the megatrend of urbanization. Numerous new megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants will be created.  Due to the expansion of health, more people have access to health care and as a consequence, will live longer (aging society). For Switzerland, this means that until 2050, 50% of the population will be over 65. So, more people have to share the same amount of resources and climate change will also affect our country: The increase in temperature compared to the pre-industrial era is twice as large as on a worldwide average (ecologization and scarcity of resources). The pace of technological innovation is increasing (acceleration) and with this the intensity of transport and communication (nomadization and connectivity). With the globalization and new technology on the rise, knowledge or at least information is proliferating (expansion of knowledge and education) and citizens increasingly insist on disclosure of information on data, structures and interests of public and private companies (transparency).

Digitalization raises essential questions on democracy, data privacy and the job market

Swissfuture has analyzed the megatrends with regards what they call our “living worlds” and encountered 20 challenges. Of these 20 challenges, the following are of particular interest for Switzerland and thus, for our digitalswitzerland challenge:

Challenge 1: Data Protection
Digitalization, connectivity and particularly technological autonomization (the evaluation of information through intelligent systems) create “transparent people”. It is often almost impossible for an individual to know who has information about him, especially information that can infringe on his privacy. Informational self-determination is (still) almost unattainable despite legal protection. Therefore: How can informational self-determination be enforced in the digital world?

Challenge 2: Democracy and Digitalization
It is necessary to have a relevant public sphere in which citizens inform themselves (expansion of knowledge) and exchange viewpoints. Social media (connectivity) can greatly contribute to this, but at the same time it harbors the danger of filter bubbles: individualization promotes social networking among like-minded people—with the drawback that other perspectives are considered less and less, and, in an extreme case, it can lead to fragmentation and tribalism in society. Therefore: How can digital transformation support political participation, civic competence and political responsibility and contribute to a relevant, political public sphere?

Challenge 3: Digital Healthcare
Healthcare in Switzerland is very expensive; the system contains many disincentives and redundancies. With more transparency and better networking (connectivity) the healthcare system could become more efficient. Therefore: How can digitalization contribute to the optimization of healthcare in Switzerland?

Challenge 4: The roll of the state in the 4th Industrial Revolution
In discussing the 4th Industrial Revolution, one often hears about the mass substitution of the workforce with autonomous systems and smart robots (technological autonomization) throughout the entire industrial sector. Since the intermediaries in many sectors can become redundant through trusted networking (blockchains), this challenge could be even further exacerbated. Admittedly, there is justifiable doubt around this scenario, but should it be the case (at least transitionally) that structural unemployment massively increases, and thereby much of the tax base disappears and the social transfer costs greatly increase at the same time, the question is: how will the state finance itself? Therefore: How will the state be financed in the future?

Challenge 5: Job Market 4.0
It can be assumed that in the future fewer employees will have indefinite and stable employment contracts than is the case today. Digitalization and connectivity have generated new business models that reduce employee work contracts, which will increasingly have to be acquired independently (individualization). There is an increased risk that informal economy will represent a growing portion of the national economic output, resulting in more employees having inadequate labor and employment protections. Therefore: How can new forms of work, resulting from platform business models, be developed in accordance with labor and employment laws?

Challenge 6: Demands on the Job Market
It to be expected that, as a part of technological advancement and the 4th Industrial Revolution, demands on the job market are changing—faster than ever. Although education levels continue to increase (expansion of knowledge), we will need models that make possible and promote continued further education and retraining in the future. Therefore: How do we maintain the employability of the workforce in times of rapid change?

Challenge 7: Competency in Digitalization
Basic knowledge in programming and dealing with digitalization are now considered cultural techniques like reading and writing (expansion of knowledge). Only those who have this basic knowledge can exercise informal self-determination and deal critically with digitalization, autonomic systems and bots (technological automatization). Therefore: What level of competency do primary school students need in digitalization?

Challenge 8: Dealing with A.I.
Self-learning machines produce results that have not been previously programmed by a person (technological autonomization). This raises the question of who may claim authorship of these results and also who must take the responsibility for any resulting damages. In the future will we need a new legal entity for artificial intelligence with rights and liabilities alongside natural persons and corporate bodies? Therefore: What does artificial intelligence mean for research, authorship and questions of liability?

digitalswitzerland aims to provide new impulses for solutions to the challenges of digitalization

It is part of digitalswitzerland’s vision to bring innovation forward in order to tackle the challenges of digitalization. Thus,  within the “digitalswitzerland challenge” we are in the stage of brainstorming and idea collection for future bets and roundtables (first phase) and the underlying report “Megatrends and Challenges for Switzerland” serves as idea provider . The most relevant topics on the digitalswitzerland challenge platform (determined by click-rates, likes, and personal judgement) then form a possible basis for the generation of bets (second phase). Within interdisciplinary and cross-sector teams, we aim to think and work on those major challenges and try to find concrete solutions for Switzerland. In the following weeks, we try to dive deeper into the individual challenges and present you some of the current research on the topics or even measures in Switzerland or abroad, which have already been taken with regards to those challenges.

To stay informed about our future bets and roundtables within the context of the digitalwitzerland challenge, please subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter and we will keep you posted!