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Access

By E. Glen Weyl, Audrey Tang and ⿻ Community

Access

Lucy: Hello, this is Luc from Château du Soleil Couchant out of Bordeaux.

Municipal Rep: Greetings, Lucy. What can I do for you today?

Lucy: Well, we at Château du Soleil Couchant are in talks with several other vineyards about the idea of creating a coalition for the implementation of a new hail cannon system across our properties. We've secured backing from 12 of the 14 regional vineyards; however, we require a mechanism that guarantees openness, fair decision-making, and the distribution of costs and advantages among all involved parties.

Lucy: To pull this off, we need a governance framework that encourages participation from neighboring vineyards. We've noticed the Wine Trade Association has had great success with their collaborative efforts, and we aim to emulate their model.

Municipal Rep: I appreciate the overview. Could you elaborate on why you need these collaborative tools?

Lucy: Certainly. There's been skepticism among local vineyards about the efficacy of hail cannons, but the latest generation has been scientifically validated to disrupt hailstorm formation. Hail is a longstanding menace to our crops. To be effective, we need widespread adoption of these systems. We're initiating a pilot program to build trust locally, but a governance system akin to what helped the Wine Trade Association resolve their differences would be invaluable.

Municipal Rep: Thanks for elaborating. The collaboration framework the French Wine Trade Association uses was adapted from the U.S. Wine and Spirit Association's model back in 2036. Based on what you've described, we've already tailored it to better fit your regional circumstances. It's important to note, though, that these tools are designed to foster inclusive discussion and consensus, not to drive specific outcomes like the adoption of hail cannons.

Lucy: Understood, and I appreciate the clarification.

Municipal Rep: Great. I've just configured the platform based on our discussion and launched it at www.bordeauxhailcannon.assoc. A detailed changelog has been dispatched to you. Should you need further modifications, please let me know.

Lucy: I certainly will. Could you also send over some advice or common hurdles that others have faced?

Municipal Rep: Definitely. While I can't share confidential details from past projects, I can definitely walk you through the general use of these tools, as well as our past learning.

Lucy: That sounds perfect, thank you. I'll review the changelog and get back to you by tomorrow.

Municipal Rep: Excellent, have a good evening.


Long before the rise of the internet, access to information had always been a crucial part of human civilization: as Sir Francis Bacon put it centuries ago, “knowledge is power”. In today’s information age, and even more in the future we describe in this book, it is increasingly impossible to deny the literal truth of this dictum. While the previous chapters of this section of the book focus on the aspects of digital life that ensure human rights, these mean nothing to human life unless every human can securely and with integrity access this world we imagine. In this chapter, we will explore what making such access a fundamental right must mean.

This idea must stretch beyond simple access, to access with integrity. If the information some receive is accurate and others corrupted, it is worse than if the latter had no access at all. Democracy depends on a populace that can fully participate: every voice is critical. While, as we have emphasized above, different communities make sense of the pattern of facts in different ways. But this diversity of perspective must come founded on underlying common access to uncorrupted input data if it is to contribute to a plural future. We all can and must make our own meanings of life, but we are denied our equal right to do so if some of us receive manipulated versions of the inputs to the global information commons.

From the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to the Declaration for the Future of the Internet in 2022, human society has continuously emphasized the importance of freedom of expression and access. These two documents illustrate a pathway that extends from basic human rights to the principles of freedom and security in the digital age. In 2023, the Global Declaration on Information Integrity Online directly addressed the collective challenges posed by generative AI and its potential for mass manipulation.

In simple terms, we must ensure that everyone has equal access to contextually complete information; otherwise, it can become worthless or even a harmful weapon. This imperative is not solely driven by digital technology; it also requires a collective, universal, and inclusive digital alliance, supported by a democratic structure. In today's era, where internet access is considered a digital human right, the spirit of pluralism flows seamlessly across the globe, much like the ancient concept of 'dao.' This spirit is woven from zeros and ones, continuously expanding our 'internet of beings' and integrating with societal structures in ways that combine democratic governance with collaborative technology. Thus, 'access' signifies not just technological availability but also contributes to the realization of everyone's innate vision, naturally fostering trust, mutual respect, and safety.

Next, we will clarify the current status of internet access, countries' efforts towards access, as well as our expectations for the digital environment and prospects for future development.

Bridging the Digital Divide

In the course of global digitalization, nations like Taiwan, Estonia, and the Scandinavian nations have pioneered the principle of digital access as a foundational right through proactive government support for internet development, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and the involvement of local community workers as key policy and implementation participants. But this is just a downpayment on the long-term investment we need to support digital public infrastructure. These collective efforts not only propel societal change but also help consolidate democratic values and establish collective consensus. It is no surprise that these countries that lead in access are also those which have most strongly embraced the substantive digital democracy we discuss in the next section of the book.

Yet, these positive outcomes are not widespread. Digital disparity exemplifies social polarization, particularly between rural and urban areas. Prior to the pandemic, 76% of urban households around the world had access to home internet, which was nearly double the 39% in rural regions. The pandemic has intensified public attention on such disparities as more areas of life — from work and education to socializing — have moved online. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reports that in 2020 alone, 466 million people used the internet for the first time. While the number and global penetration of internet users have continued to grow through 2021 to 2022, multifaceted inequalities in internet access remain. These contribute to a wide range of economic, political, and social inequities.

2.7 billion people globally are still without internet access. The geographic distribution of access reflects global inequality. The internet is fraught with multidimensional inequalities in geography, politics, gender, and age. Addressing these issues requires a global, grand vision, widespread implementation, and large-scale promotion. [Need more data here]

Building on previous chapters of this book, we need to understand the fundamental right of access from plural perspectives, and the role of policymakers is crucial. They need to focus on global digital divides and take corresponding measures to resolve the inequality in access. Such steps must also include investment in digital public infrastructure to protect contextual integrity for online exchange.

While openness is promoted, digital participants also need to contribute their efforts to illuminate the dark and tricky corners existing on the internet, watching out for each other. Of course, this issue touches upon global social structures and cultural diversity. Fortunately, we no longer need to cross oceans as Tocqueville did to learn from the valuable experiences of different countries in building digital democracy and sustainable development.

In short, we are at a global turning point. To safeguard and establish a more safe and open digital access environment, there are two important courses of action:

  1. Digital Infrastructure: Develop an interoperable model for international infrastructures that overcomes the challenges of collective action we discuss in the Markets chapter below, thereby providing equitable services globaly.

  2. Information Integrity: Address the challenges posed by mimetic models (so-called “deepfakes”) to maintain semantic security and allowing continued enjoyment ofy the benefits of the digital age.

If we can advance these two fundamental rights, the other rights described in this section can reach into the lived experience of all people and serve as a substrate not just of collective intelligence “online”, but in the daily lives of everyone across the world. As we have highlighted throughout the book, many public services and social interactions in today's digital environment seem overshadowed by capitalism. Nowadays, "internet access is a human right." is nearly a consensus among democracies. What remains is to untangle the complications between democracy and internet access.

Infrastructures for Information Integrity

Forestry expert Suzanne Simard focuses on exploring the collaborative nature of forests, viewing them as intelligent systems. These forests not only possess self-awareness and spontaneous development capabilities, but also feature close interactions between various ecological components. Simard has studied how tree roots and symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi communicate in the soil layers of ancient forests in British Columbia. She discovered that in this environment driven by fungal networks, different types of trees can send warning signals to each other and share essential sugars, water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus.

In such a vibrant forest, a single 'mother tree' can establish connections with hundreds of other trees. Multiple such mother trees ensure the continuity of the entire forest as a collective organism through overlapping networks, ensuring a secure and robust environment through open connections.

Digital infrastructure follows a similar pattern with open standards (protocols) open source code and open data. It serves as a public foundation that is open to the global community, collaborating with tens of thousands of digital communities while offering open and secure Internet access and jointly defending against immediate digital threats.

Taiwan is one of the world’s primary DDoS hotspots, according to Cloudflare's report. Its government has adopted the IPFS framework discussed in the previous chapter for its websites, allowing it to interconnect with both private digital services and emerging open networks. This structure is not only more resistant to sudden DDoS attacks and is conducive to open collaboration and mutual support with global technology communities. This provides an illustration of making systems more robust against information manipulation.

Furthermore, it is essential to ensure that people have the right to access information with contextual confidence. The primary goals of open government data align with this: granting more power to citizens, increasing government transparency and accountability, thus effectively combating corruption and enabling democratic systems serve the people more efficiently. The Ukrainian "Diia" and the Estonian "mRiik" serve as examples that highlight the bidirectional features of trusted networks and information openness.

Both Estonia and Ukraine are proactive in digitalization toward public participation. They make digital technology a genuinely necessary social tool for the public, providing secure, open digital public services for citizens to access government services and real-time information. Diia has shown the world how digital technology can break down long-standing corruption. This year, Estonia launched its latest app "mRiik," largely inspired by the Ukrainian app Diia.[1]

Digital infrastructure does not point to a one-size-fits-all solution; each nation still needs to adapt based on its unique development needs. However, the fundamental functions and democratic essence are similar values and offer a common ground for expansion. Taiwan, Estonia, and Ukraine show us how information integrity and digital infrastructure intertwine to enhance societal resilience. [More About the Ambitious Vision for the Future]

In conclusion, the right to access is a cornerstone for achieving digital democracy and social inclusivity. To move towards such a future requires multi-dimensional efforts, including technological innovation and policy cooperation. The next chapter will delve deeper into these intertwined issues.


  1. Ukrainian Digital Minister Mykhailo Fedorov said, "Diia is willing to share its code and UX/UI design methods with Estonia" ↩︎