While millions of people browse the Internet, send mail, and while away time in chat rooms, the Internet still largely a highly complex and often mysterious room for society as a whole.
The computer-based technology that has made the Internet is still mostly in private hands. The challenge is to find a to unleash the untapped power of that technology to achieve goals. At the Lisbon European Council of March 2000 leaders declared information technology a key element in making the European Union ‘the most dynamic and most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world.’ The eEurope initiative wants its member states to help create ‘an information society for all’.
This White Paper seeks to distinguish ‘knowledge society’ from other terms and to propose a path that can make possible a society that spontaneously shares knowledge, encourages creativity, empowers job-seekers, and improves life quality as a whole.
A knowledge society, then, is one where all stakeholders, not just big business, have equal access to information technology resources and can share in the benefits they bring. It emphasises the social and economic benefits to be derived from making knowledge a central organising principle across all society.
Creating an environment to nurture the knowledge society requires public sector leadership. Government already is the guardian of the legal framework of cities, states, and nations; it oversees public education; it derives resources from the people it serves; and it has the capacity to develop the needed infrastructure. Most important, the work of the public sector focuses not on financial return but on serving the needs of society. Its function is to build for the long-term public interest.
We can get a glimpse of what a knowledge society can produce through two examples: (1) MP3, a file-exchange concept that has spawned both new commercial products and a revolution in the music industry, and (2) an Open Source software environment that competes with the giant Microsoft. Both were devised by individuals and small groups of programmers scattered around the world working cooperatively but without standard organisational support, capitalisation, marketing, a sales force, or endless meetings. Yet, somehow, they have established a worldwide presence, one we believe should be replicated.
In order for citizens to embark on the knowledge society, however, they must be able to access information, be confident that their privacy is protected, accept that the information they provide is secure, and know that the information they retrieve is reliable.
Access cannot rely solely on the PC and the Internet. The PC is too expensive and too complex to achieve universal use. The only current user terminals that even remotely approach ‘universal’ access status are the telephone and the television. For a knowledge society to function, the entire access infrastructure needs to be overhauled to incorporate these common technologies. They need to accommodate the widely variant skills of the citizenry as well as all kinds of vocal, written, and electronic commands.
Access also involves ensuring that fee-based systems do not take over the technology that searches web-based resources. Today Google is the only search engine that indexes web sites free of charge. All others list only sites that have paid to be indexed. If the only information available is that which forms part of a commercial transaction, huge resources will be lost to the public.
Security in a knowledge society takes on increasing importance. Growing connectivity links more and more systems worldwide, meaning that the shared costs of one individual’s failure to enforce robust security standards can be disproportionately high. Only the public sector has the capacity to establish and enforce the level of security needed by a knowledge society. A code of conduct is needed to control our use of the technology highway as much as a highway code is needed to control behaviour on the road.
You can download the full White Paper as a *.pdf file: click here