A manifesto for positive technology

The past half-decade or so has taught us difficult lessons. Revelations about the power that companies like Facebook, Google, and more have over our lives show us that technology is not value-neutral, or at least not intrinsically virtuous. In the wake of this, a burgeoning movement has started, one that seeks to embed our most important shared values into the fabric of tech. This is my take on a manifesto for this movement, a manifesto for Self-Determined Computing.

Self-determination is the idea that a healthy society allows its citizens to be independent and in control of their own lives. As technology begins to impact every part of our social, political, and economic lives, we must think about how to design systems that mirror our social, political, and economic values.

Self-Determined Computing is based on giving back control and ownership of a person or organization’s digital life. It covers three main areas:

  • Self-determined identity: a person or organization should be in full control over their online identity, including who can see which pieces of personally identifying information.
  • Self-determined applications: a person or organization should be in full control over which tools they use, when they use them, and how they use them.
  • Self-determined information: a person or organization should be in full control over who can see which pieces of their information, and trace what happens to that information.
The three areas of self-determined computing

Behind all three of these areas lie certain common principles for Self-Determined Computing. Some of these that have already been identified are:

  1. Usability: a person or organization can, no matter their level of technical knowledge, be self-determined.
  2. Access: a person or organization must always have access to their own identity, tools, and information.
  3. Control: a person or organization is the sole controller of the identities, tools, and information they create and use.
  4. Transparency: a person or organization can see and understand the underlying operations of the system, including any transformations to, or decisions made from the information they control.
  5. Portability: a person or organization is able to choose where and who provides their computing, and change their mind at any time.
  6. Interoperability: a person or organization can collaborate with others who have made different choices about where and who provides their computing.
  7. Minimization: a person or organization can selectively, and at a fine-grained level, choose who can see and interact with them and their information.
  8. Expressiveness: a person or organization isn’t limited in the forms of computing they can do, or the types of information they wish to use.
  9. Accessibility: everyone should be able to become fully self-determined, and not need to compromise on this because of cost or scope.

Already, there are a number of systems working on one or more of these areas. In self-determined identity, Sovrin and the W3C’s Credentials Community Group are mapping out the necessary pieces to reboot the Web of Trust. For data, the work on the Linked Data Platform and Solid are attempting to define ways to provide control, portability, interoperability, and expressiveness. Our own private-by-design information exchange platform is tackling all nine of the above principles.

As we learn more about the perils of the old-style of technology, and as life increasingly resembles an episode of Black Mirror, the idea of Self-Determined Computing is going to become more and more important. By signing up to these principles, and incorporating them into the technologies you choose or develop, you are helping create a world where everyone retains their independence.

A self-determined world is a technological world with the values we seek in the physical one. Let’s make sure it happens.

This article is a repost of one that originally appeared on Medium.