For two years, scientists and practitioners worked in the course of the DiDaT research project on the unintended side effects of using digital data ("unseens"). Danube University Krems drew on their experience to set up the transdisciplinary process in which findings from theory and practice led to the "Weissbuch" (White Paper), which provides socially robust orientations on how to deal with digital data.
Today, almost all information is stored digitally as data. "Digital twins" are created through the global networking of machines and people to preserve, pass on and process this information and are more than just copies or simulations of the role model. In the worst case, this twin can be used for monitoring, diagnosing unwanted behavior, and controlling and predicting behavior. This affects machines and humans alike. A few globally operating American and Chinese oligopolies control search engines, cloud storage, social media, web browsers and data encryption services. Against this background and a digitalization that is gaining momentum, the handling of digital data is becoming a key issue for modern society. How can public governance be enforced vis-à-vis the aforementioned supranational players?
Transdisciplinary leads to sustainable results
The project "Forming a Responsible Use of Digital Data in Transdisciplinary Process" (DiDaT), involved more than 150 scientists and practitioners, who investigated 24 unintended consequences of the usage of digital data, so-called "unseens", in five core areas: Mobility, Health, Agriculture, the Future of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and Social Media. These areas selected represent core functions that are essential for achieving the goals of social development. Socially robust orientations were developed to deal with the identified "unseens". This is where the expertise of the Transdisciplinary Laboratory Sustainable Digital Environments (SDE TdLab) at Danube University Krems comes in. A transdisciplinary process was taken for this science-society-collaboration thanks to the collaboration of the scientific co-leader of the Td-Lab, emmeritus Prof Roland Scholz. The special feature of this process lies in the equal partnership of science and practice, where both sides define project goals and cooperate on an equal footing from the very beginning. This partnership is reflected in the organization chart, in which a group of researchers and practitioners are mirrored for each of the five core areas and in the steering board. The goal to offer orientations that enable a common good-oriented and smooth use of digital technologies is achieved through this transdisciplinary approach and the many perspectives brought in.
Even though the DiDaT project refers to the situation in Germany, many results can be transferred to other European countries. As it became apparent that the Federal Republic should urgently establish a legal and social framework for the use of digital data, since digital technology innovation is predominantly private-sector in nature. In this area, Assistant Prof Gabriel M. Lentner, Deputy Head of the Department for Legal Studies and International Relations, also made a contribution to DiDaT as a senior legal expert. On the one side, measures need to be taken on the legal framework, such as additional regulations like the e-privacy regulation of the EU. On the other side, data strategies are necessary on a national, European and global level. In order to end dependence, technological projects are also necessary, such as GAIA-X, which aims to provide a competitive and at the same time trustworthy, secure data infrastructure for Europe. The renegotiation of the rules of the game to come for digital infrastructure will lead to trade-offs, meaning that the protection of personal data often conflicts with economic interests. The protection of this data could also conflict with a public interest, such as health protection. Transdisciplinary processes such as those in DiDaT lend themselves to these issues.
Some concrete findings from the studies of the five core areas: The economic potential of digital mobility enables non-discriminatory and spatially sustainable mobility models. Rebound effects, in which additional traffic reduces efficiency savings, can be effectively countered in advance. In the area of health, the focus is on the data sovereignty of the individual combined with the right to informational self-determination. In order to be able to exercise this right, the self-efficacy of users has to be improved. In agriculture, structural change accelerating resulting in new business models with changed value creation and dependencies, can be observed. For the future of SMEs, the issue is how to deal with the Janus-faced nature of digital platforms, which offer access to new customer segments but at the same time gain access to business data that is problematic under antitrust law. Concerning social media, new interfaces that could bring transparency to the often incomprehensible processes of the platforms would be thinkable. Institutions established to build trust could be used to address the issue of fake news.
In addition to the "Weissbuch" (White Paper) on dealing with the "unseens" of the digital transformation, the volume "Supplementary Information DiDaT White Paper" was also published as part of DiDaT, which describes 24 "unseens" with their causes, measures and conflicting goals that are subject to the construction of the socially robust orientations as examples.