A Manifesto for Inclusive Digital Futures: Global Conversations and Action on the Fourth Industrial Revolution 

Wednesday 26 May 2021


10:00 - 10:05 AM

Professor Bridgette Wessels (University of Glasgow)

Introduction & Welcome

10:05 - 10:10 AM

Miss Rachel Sandison (University of Glasgow)

Vice Principal Welcome

10:10 - 10:25 AM

Professor Caroline Bassett (University of Cambridge)

Keynote: The Fourth Turn: Five responses 

The proclamation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is predicated on the assumption that the accelerating convergence of a series of rapidly advancing technologies will produce something qualitatively different – and in very short order. The conditions in which the earlier web era, itself the successor to the industrial era is overthrown, are almost here, or so it is claimed. The development of a series of new technologies and their ‘fusion’ will blur the lines between ‘physical, digital, and biological spheres’, doing so at a systemic level, and at a velocity previously unseen. This is accelerationism, though certainly not of the left kind; Fourth Industrial Revolution discourse focusses relentlessly on the economy, on the rise of new technologies producing new products, the rise of new markets, new forms of consumption. Welcome to the after-after party of the industrial revolution. But what are we being invited to? Who is invited? On whose terms, by whom, and in whose interests?

A counter-manifesto is needed. One that engages with these questions rather than assuming that they will be rendered unnecessary or beside the point, that a technological fix will do the basic job ‘for humanity’ and ‘for the planet’ – and all that will be required will be a little balancing out.

Such a manifesto would have to begin by arguing for the restitution of political hope, for the restitution of the uncertain but real possibility that the future can be contested for, that it is radically open, that demands for equality, freedom, and inclusion, and a re-thinking of the costs of human activities in relation to the environment can be central as demands for a future society. Hope stands against the kind of technological optimism that is confident technology will advance society but which assesses advancement in technological rather than social, cultural, or environmental, terms – and that is, in this sense, un-ambitious, failing to grasp the real possibilities for a deeper transformation.

A hopeful manifesto might entail shaping technologies differently and responding to their affordances (for instance to complexity and AI) in new ways. It would also mean questioning naturalized assumptions about what constitutes end-goals of technological progresses – more, bigger, faster, for instance. And it would focus on social values not as after-thoughts but in process. In the early internet era technologies of freedom were once explored in terms of ontology (what information technology afforded) and taken up as a Libertarian ideal (freedom from the collective). But the term could be appropriated and used to argue for the building of technological societies based on sustainability, equality and recognition – and in this sense deeply collective. 

Here I switch scale. The manifesto form is alluring but it runs the risk of over-investing in its presumed performative power, and, in its technological mode, of mistaking imaginary technologies for those already instantiated - the near future tense of the technological pronouncement is notorious after all. Against accelerationism then, perhaps it makes sense to slow down. In what follows, as a contribution to the debate around the Fourth Revolution, and perhaps as a stepping-stone to the eventual writing of a counter-manifesto, I look at work in progress. I identify five locations or zones – forms of life, relationships, methods, practices, where visions for the coming future can be, and are already being, contested for in more specific or local ways. In each an assumed trajectory for the technological is being supplemented, diverted, refused, or transformed. The questions each raise might point back towards general principles – and might contribute to a collaborative re-writing.

10:25 - 10:40 AM

Professor Hopeton Dunn (University of Botswana)

Keynote: Reimagining Human Development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution - AI and IA: Artificial Intelligence and Internet Access in Search for an inclusive Digital Future (Professor Hopeton Dunn Statement Paper)

Despite an impressive array of putative technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), this presentation argues that the intended transformational processes must inescapably include a vast global expansion of effective Internet Access (IA). Related to this must be the provision of stable electricity supplies as well as educational campaigns in citizen data literacy. These are deemed essential in the search for an inclusive digital future among large population segments worldwide. The conceptualiser of 4IR invited readers, in 2016, to “think about the staggering confluence of emerging technology breakthroughs covering wide-ranging fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing, to name a few.” (Schwab 2016: 1). However, the Covid 19 pandemic has exposed the cruel disparity between those with access to such smart enabling technologies, and the vast majority of people without basic Internet Access (IA). In Africa, for example, the ITU points out that only 28 per cent of households in urban areas had access to the Internet at home, but that this was still 4.5 times as high as the percentage in rural areas, which stood at 6.3 per cent. (ITU Development Sector Report 2020). Many households in other global regions are experiencing a similar absence of meaningful connectivity to help mitigate social distancing and provide such necessities as online-based home schooling and the wherewithal for e-commerce under Covid 19. While these immediate human needs do not loom large in 4IR’s starred array of technological applications, they have become, in less than 18 months, the technologies of necessity and choice for millions globally, where available. We argue that 4IR’s artificial intelligence (AI) emphasis can play an important role in improving internet access (IA) and human development. However, if basic access devices remain unaffordable or unavailable to large segments of the global population, the ‘smart’ integrated AI benefits will continue to elude citizens that are in need of them to survive. In these circumstances, we conclude that, without new interventions, especially from voices in Academia and the Global South, the promise of 4IR to create “a new technology revolution which entails nothing less than a transformation of humankind” (Schwab 2016: 1), will remain a mirage that fails to benefit the great majority of people globally. To help mitigate this on-going challenge, the presentation offers a range of recommendations from varied sources, that seek to meet the more widespread and urgent human development needs for economic, educational and social survival during and after Covid 19. These include the emerging concept of “globalization from within” (Dunn 2021).

10:40 - 10:50 AM

Professor Bassett and Professor Dunn

Keynote Discussion

10:50 - 11:00 AM

Professor Bassett and Professor Dunn

Audience discussion with Keynote Speakers

11:00 - 11:10 AM

Coffee Break - informal networking opportunity

11:10 AM - 12:00 PM

Roundtable Session 1: Current Ideologies, negotiations, and differentiated experiences of the digital

Professor Gerard Goggin (University of Singapore) Disability & Inclusive Digital Futures: Pandemic Reflections (Professor Gerard Goggin Statement Paper)

Disability has been inching to the centre stage of global conversations on inclusion and digital futures. There’s good reason for this – in terms of the confirmed international will to tackle the severe issues of inequality, injustice, and democratic deficit faced by people with disabilities, now potentially exacerbated with new exclusions associated with emerging technologies and digital societies. The work of people with disabilities has long put on the digital inclusion agenda issues of web and mobile accessibility, captioning and audio description, disability representation, content, and media work. The place of disability in inclusive media, communications, and information has never been more important, especially with widening though stratified everyday reliance upon apps, data, digital platforms, and other technologies. In this brief talk, I reflect upon lessons learnt in relation to disability, accessibility, and digital inclusion in the COVID-19 pandemic. Where, for instance, the tilt to digitalization has opened up or underwritten forms of inclusive participation for people with disabilities as new kinds of constraints and regulation of social life, freedom, and mobility have emerged. From disability perspectives on the pandemic, we can gain acute insights into how to imagine and enact inclusive digital futures.

Professor Payal Arora (Erasmus Unviersity Rotterdam) A feminist design manifesto for the future of work in the Global South (Professor Payal Arora Statement Paper)

FemLab.co (Feminist Approaches to Labor Collectives) is a seed-funded initiative by the International Development Research Center (IDRC), Canada, as part of their Future of Work series. The Founders Payal Arora and Usha Raman advocate for a feminist approach to design and development to shape the future of work in the Global South. This builds on an understanding of communicative ecologies of women in specific sites of informal labor to explore how digital platforms can be leveraged by them to share grievances and communicate directly to the top of the supply chain, allowing their voices to contribute to the governance of the future of work. This presentation explains the project, the feminist approach, and early findings on how to support the collective agency of women workers at the bottom of supply chains, leveraging on new digital tools and include them in larger conversations on fair work conditions and supply chain transparency. By taking a user-centered and feminist approach to design, informed by the voices of the most vulnerable stakeholders, platforms may be harnessed to enhance representation, share information, and connect and collectivize women workers in a changing and increasingly precarious labor market. This presents opportunities for Global South workers on platforms, as well as those in traditional workplaces to utilize technological advances to advocate for decent work conditions.

Professor Madeleine Murtagh (University of Glasgow) Collaborative governance of data for biosocial research: countering inequalities in the data economy?

As the scope of the data available for biosocial research purposes expands to encompass more and more aspects of our daily lives, the concepts of privacy, confidentiality and security which have informed data governance practices to date are increasingly inadequate. Reliance on individual consent as the basis of data ethics, building as it does upon Western legal, philosophical and ethical paradigms, inevitably favours already-privileged well-educated individuals with strong social capital. Whether in one-off or dynamic forms, individually based consent tends to reproduce social inequalities. Moreover, individual consent is a very blunt instrument which largely precludes engagement with future uses of shared and often aggregated data. The only option for those who are concerned about onward uses of their data is to revoke their original consent. But uneven withdrawal of such data may further exacerbate inequalities. Collective and collaborative forms of governance promise to democratise the use of population and aggregate data ways that individual consent does not. This paper explores the affordances and limits of collaborative forms of data governance.

12:00 - 12:30 PM 

Lunch, Chat and Networking (Optional)



Thursday 27 May 2021


1:00 - 1:05 PM


1:05 - 1:55 PM

Roundtable Session 2 Imaginaries and sustainable alternatives of digital futures (e.g. inclusive, just, enabling fuflilling)

Professor Simeon Yates (University of Liverpool) Digital inequalities – what they are and their consequences

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted for the public and policy makers the size and implications of digital inequalities in the UK and globally.  The ‘digital divide’ is not a new idea. It has been explored since the 1970s as telecommunications, computing, ICT, or information divides.  More recently research has focused on digital exclusion and inclusion and the post pandemic buzz-words are digital and data poverty.  This lecture will explore the nature of digital inequalities across access, skills, affordability and motivation.  It will then examine and consider the implications of these inequalities.  These implications cut across and are intertwined with citizens economic, social and cultural lives and opportunities.  The talk builds on two decades of empirical research – both quantitative and qualitative – conducted in collaboration with regional, national and international stakeholders, charities and governments.  The lecture will conclude with thoughts on the key next steps for research, practitioners and policy makers.

Professor Robin Mansell (London School of Econmics) Towards a Different Datafied World – Challenges, Constraints and Potentials (Professor Robin Mansell Statement Paper)

This talk will discuss why it is so challenging to destabilise and denaturalise taken for granted assumptions about prevailing datafication strategies.  It will then turn to what policies would need to be in place to foster alternatives to commercial datafication practices and, crucially, what moves would be needed to put such alternatives on a pathway to financial sustainability.  Going beyond discussions about ‘trade-offs’ between conflicting economic and public values, it suggests options for a pathway towards a data-enabled digital space that embraces private and public/collective supply of designated infrastructural services.

Dr Nick Bradshaw (AI Media Group) The 4IR Opportunity in Africa - Fact or Fiction?

As the Global North embraces the Fourth Industrial Revolution - what is happening the Global South? More often than not, Africa is seen as the “last developing market” globally and while it has challenges to overcome there are equally a range of new and emerging opportunities for investors, suppliers and innovators with equal measure”.  This talk will focus on the research, analysis and community building of the last 3-4 years in the Africa region as it pertains to 4IR related technologies.  It will touch on the growth of the 4IR movement, investment, development trends and key communities leading the charge in the Africa region.

1:55 - 2:05 PM

Coffee break - informal networking opportunity (Optional)

2:05 - 2:55 PM

Roundtable Session 3: A global conversation around inclusive digital futures: and how we can come together to mobilise progressive and inclusive change?

Renata Avila (<A+> Alliance) A Tech New Deal from the South

This intervention will explore how the converging crises, a democratic crisis caused by some terrible leaders in power, with a climate-change and technological crisis demand a systemic solution. For the climate crisis, the proposed solution is the "Global Green New Deal" enshrined in the Paris Agreement. But that will only be possible if we integrate it with a pro democracy, ecological and inclusive vision of Tech. But this time the agenda cannot be imposed top-down by those who own and control all the tech industry, policy and politics. This intervention will propose a different power dynamic to give back voice, power and agency to the South in shaping our digital future.

Professor Richard Harper (Lancaster University) The ‘User’ in the Age of AI

It is a commonplace to claim that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is radically altering the relationship people have with computers. There is a tendency in this view to emphasise the change in technology itself and less on the equally significant changes in who the ‘users’ of AI might be. In my view, these ‘users’ are not anyone and everybody but are constituted in interaction with AI in ways that makes this ‘user group’ quite limited. By this is not meant users as some kind of social group, as users configured by what I suggest is the metaphysics of AI: the notion that people are like AI, machines that optimise meaning and action, and because of this, have aspirations that can be modelled in the AI. AI and humans work hand in hand as they are mirrors of one another. I will argue that this view constrains both what kind of people are thought to use AI and the kinds of AI that is being developed. People are much more complex than AI metaphysics allows, though not in ways to do with processing powers. Their complexity reflects richness in cultural practice. AI tools and systems might reflect this richness too. I will argue that characterising this practice should be the cornerstone of technology development, not the kinds of model humans that currently underscore AI. I will illustrate the argument with new technologies derived from my own cultural enquiries in areas of work, home and interpersonal communication.

Professor Jane Duncan (University of Johannesburg) Why the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a dead-end concept

In this presentation, I will explain why I think that the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is a flawed concept, a historically inaccurate descriptor of the current period, a distraction, and why anybody seeking to achieve more inclusive and progressive digital futures for all should abandon it as a dead-end concept. Using South African media and ICT policymaking as a touchstone, I will show how the debates around 4IR are not new. In fact, I will extrapolate some lessons learnt from debates and struggles around the Third Industrial revolution or the so-called ‘information society’. I will show how attempts to reform this concept, rather than abandon it as a basis for democratic ICT policymaking, led to an ‘add ICT’s and stir’ approach to social development that failed to find an appropriate place for emerging communication technologies in the cycle of human development. I will look at how the Fourth Industrial revolution is not revolutionary, but conservative, infused as it is with technological determinism that misidentifies the real motors of social change in capitalism. Anyone aspiring to achieve better digital futures needs to find a new and more inspiring concept to rally around.

2:55 - 3:00 PM

Professor Wessels

Final Remarks and Close of Event

3:00 - 3:40 PM

Symposium Discussion & Next Steps (Optional breakout session)

Chat and Networking (Optional)