3 ways to ensure the internet's future is creative, collaborative, and fair

The European Commission is about to pass some laws regulating the future of the Internet. Here's how to make sure these laws are fair and just.

Last month the European Union’s governance body, the European Commission (EC), narrowly rejected controversial legislation intended to redefine copyright for the internet age, by only 40 votes. This new copyright directive was provisionally approved by the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee in June, and the vote has forced the EC to debate and likely amend the directive before parliamentarians meet for a second plenary vote in September.

The directive of the European parliament and of the council on copyright has been a source of much global debate and controversy among various stakeholder groups, including civil society and both the tech and creative industries. Three specific clauses are of primary concern for these parties, with two particularly impacting digital content distributors: Articles 11, a proposed link tax on use of journalistic content, and 13, the imposition of a technical tool to identify copyright-protected content.

The main arguments against Articles 11 and 13 surrounded the vagueness of certain key terms, the risks in providing flexibility in their interpretation, restriction of online freedoms, limits on fair use of copyrighted content, and creating an uncompetitive environment that favours large incumbent players or existing digital platform monopolies. An example is the Internet Society’s position on Article 13. On the other side of the debate, creative IP owners, artists, journalists and related associations had less to say about the language used in drafting the articles and more about how the internet has impacted their ability to be fairly compensated. Even after last month’s vote, little was offered in recommendations to redraft vague language.

However, both sides agree that (i) copyright policy for creative works is in need of a revamp due to digitization and changes in consumer behaviours, and (ii) artists and content owners should be fairly remunerated for certain uses of their works. The issue lies in how the EC’s directive was designed to support these two principles. The vagueness of the terms used, with too much flexibility in interpretation by nation states, and the potential of risk to online freedoms and in the enhancement of monopolistic power, are all details that risk doing the creative economy more harm than good. With the right approach to governance and policy formulation, however, they can be remedied.

Image: Avi Richards/Unsplash

Here are three things that the EC (and ultimately any policy-making body) should apply in conceiving a truly modern copyright directive for the creative economy:

1. “Day after tomorrow” thinking

The internet, as we commonly know it, is an aging platform. The Internet of Things is already here, which will take the sharing economy to the next level. We must collectively acknowledge that the sharing economy is the first new and established economic system since 19th-century capitalism and socialism – and this has fundamentally transformed our information ecosystem and our creative economy. Further, technologies such as hyper-realities (for example, augmented and virtual) and artificial intelligence will impact these at accelerated rates. A sign of outdated thinking within the EC’s new directive on copyright is its frequent use of the term “upload(ed)”, generally associated with owned content. At a time when research shows that “the preferences for streaming rather than downloading content continues to grow” across Europe, there is not one mention of “stream(ed)” or “streaming”, which is associated with a temporary use of content (not ownership).

Additionally, any directive and resulting policies must be innovative and robust enough to embody and address a “What if?” future, involving our emerging consumption patterns and behaviours. In its current form, by the time the EC’s copyright directive begins to be applied and enforced, content consumption and industry will have moved onto a different paradigm, creating a new set of challenges for copyright protection – this is the reality of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and both the information and entertainment ecosystems are not being spared by its disruption. “Day after tomorrow” thinking focuses on longer-term impact considerations, and it helps organizations improve their chances of being ahead of the curve. Peter Hinssen’s future-thinking approach was designed for companies and organizations, but it is equally important for governance and policy making; in fact, this type of thinking can be applied to policy design in partnership with industry (see below), which would considerably change the current state of the EC’s copyright directive.

2. Systems thinking and agile governance

Systems thinking focuses on the dynamics between ecosystem stakeholders, trends, issues and other elements, which ultimately leads to a heightened understanding of the true impact variables have on the state of a system. Article 13 of the EU copyright directive is an example of something designed without using a systems approach. As noted by Frédéric Donck of the Internet Society, “civil society and academia, including the Electronic Frontier FoundationEuropean Digital RightsCreative Commons and the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, have all raised concerns over the potential negative impact of Article 13 on freedom of expression, the rule of law, market competition and internet architecture as a whole”.

Anticipating the future, understanding trends and taking a systems approach to challenges such as copyright protection is not easy, nor is it a gameable science. As such, any decision-making body can get it wrong, so having the agility to react, shift course and adapt is becoming more and more an essential element to success – this is true of business and industry, and equally true for the public sector. Governments and policy-makers are doing society and the creative economy a disservice if they only focus on reactive policy implementation. An efficient reactive approach is important, in order to adjust existing policies, for example, but building adaptability into the DNA of any law or directive-making body is more important. How adaptable will the new EC Copyright Directive be to systemic change and developments in technology, consumption patterns and content format? Which stakeholders were involved in the design phase of the new directive? The World Economic Forum believes in the concept of agile governance, which not only considers emerging technologies, mitigates policy decay and makes policy-design faster and more responsive, but it also integrates a collaborative multi-stakeholder approach into the process.

3. A multi-stakeholder approach

Notice the reference to the creative “economy” and not simply “industries”. Industry is only one of many stakeholder groups impacted by any copyright directive and related policies. Besides the obvious member state governments, who are to apply an EU-wide directive, citizens who consume copyright-protected content will also be severely impacted by any new directive. This means that they, represented by civil society, should be at the table during the design of the directive. The EC should open the debate and reformulation of their copyright directive to a true multi-stakeholder approach.

Seizing the opportunity

Between now and 12 September 12, the European Commission has a real occasion to adopt and pilot the use of these thinking and working models during the adjustment process for its new copyright directive. The World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Information and Entertainment system initiativewas created to act as a neutral multi-stakeholder platform to collaborate with central bodies such as the EC in addressing challenges facing the creative economy, including copyright and the economic existence of content creators. The EC should seize this opportunity and transform their copyright directive into a role-model success in governance for other governments and regulators around the world to follow.


Reprinted with permission of World Economic Forum. Read the original article here.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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