What are the limits of reality

How the boundaries between reality and virtuality are blurring

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The new information and communication technologies have long been determining our everyday lives. This text only appears online and you can read it on the screen of your computer, smartphone or tablet. But what are the consequences of rapid digitization for our everyday and working lives? How does it affect politics, the public and our privacy?

The European Commission will address these and many other questions at a summit conference on the subject of "Next Generation Internet" in June. And in preparation for the conference, the EU-supported public platform "REIsearch" is launching an online survey to hear the opinions of EU citizens and experts.

"Der Standard" takes part as one of eight newspapers (one newspaper per country; in Germany the "FAZ", in Spain "El País", in GB "The Guardian") and links to the four-part German-language questionnaire. The answers will not only benefit politicians, but above all also scientific experts who are working on the future of the Internet in Europe.

Changes due to the onlife era

Today almost four billion people have online access, and many of us have long been living in the "onlife era", in which the boundaries between our online and offline identities are becoming increasingly blurred. For many, this represents one of the greatest changes in human history, with profound effects on the economy, our way of life, but also our individuality.

The recently published report of the European Commission's "OnLife" initiative sees it this way: "We have entered a new phase of the information age, a phase in which the hybridization between bits and other forms of reality is so deep that it is human Will radically change existence. " The experts diagnose several developments: First, the distinctions between reality and virtuality will continue to blur. Second, the boundaries between man, machine and nature become unclear. Third, it is less a lack of information than information overload that becomes a problem. Finally, interactions become more important than entities.

Chances and risks of AI

The extent of the impact of the onlife era is only fully understood by considering recent breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence, which has been the domain of academic research for years but is in full expansion thanks to the massive investments of Silicon Valley giants: Think of Google with its DeepMind project, but also Apple with Siri, IBM with the Watson supercomputer, Microsoft with Cortana and Amazon with Alexa.

The prospects for the onlife era are not all bright, however. "A breakthrough in the creation of AI would be the greatest event in human history," said the physicist Stephen Hawking, who is particularly dependent on information and communication technology in everyday life. "Unfortunately, it could be the last if we don't learn how to avoid the risks. One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, surpassing inventions by human researchers, tricking human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand While the short-term effects of AI will depend on who controls it, the long-term effects will depend on whether it can be controlled at all. "

New fundamental rights for the internet age

For these reasons, experts are working on new fundamental rights for citizens of the onlife era - such as the Internet amendments to the constitution recently proposed in the Italian parliament. These rights extend well beyond privacy to include the “right to focus our attention”, which experts have identified as “an essential and necessary condition for autonomy, responsibility, thoughtfulness, plurality, committed presence and sense of meaning”.

These new approaches, while complex, are too important to be left simply to experts and require greater citizen involvement to inform regulators of their real needs and concerns. For this reason we ask for your opinion, here in the forum and by means of a questionnaire. (tasch, 4.5.2017)

Click here for the questionnaire: How do technologies blur the boundaries between online and offline worlds?