Digital access isn’t universal, but a 10-year plan can help

In 1900, at the Paris Conference of the International Congress of Mathematicians at the Sorbonne, David Hilbert listed 23 open-ended mathematical questions and established a program for a wide range of studies that continue to influence modern mathematics today. Since then, scientists from other disciplines, such as astrophysics and biology, have followed Hilbert’s lead: carry on into the next decade.

Decadal studies can inspire research that changes the nature of their fields, including building the instruments needed to find scientific answers. For example, the laser interferometer’s space antenna, a sensitive detector for measuring gravitational waves, was a direct result of the 2010 Decadal Astronomy and Astrophysics Study. Another incredible scientific tool inspired by a Decadal study is the soon-to-launch James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to see the formation of the first galaxies and even analyze the atmospheres of Earth-like exoplanets in our galaxy. What the telescope discovers could potentially affect the search for life in the universe.

Now is the time to focus a ten-year study on information and communication technologies (ICT). In our modern lives, digital technology and networks have become increasingly important, and lack of access to these resources can increase inequalities. In recognition of this, the Marconi Society, a non-profit organization that I chair, created a new mission in 2019 focused on using cutting-edge technologies to improve digital inclusion. To ensure that the network’s opportunities are accessible to all, the Marconi Society undertook a ten-year survey titled “Discussion of the Decade”, focusing on ICT challenges and our organization’s role in facilitating digital inclusion. .

Over a period of months in 2021, these discussions uncovered a wide range of issues that ICT professionals should prioritize. Identifying the most important challenges in quantum computing could pave the way for practical networks capable of solving serious real-world problems, including the evaluation of solutions to climate change. To improve cybersecurity, we need much better programming environments to protect programmers – and the rest of us – from their own mistakes. We have also identified issues that need to be addressed. In the interest of protecting user privacy, how can we better authenticate identity and protect ourselves against identity theft, while overcoming the frictions of two-factor authentication and making the process scalable to hundreds of individual accounts? How best to explain machine learning systems and how much can we trust them?

Of all our discussion topics, digital inclusion stood out. This issue has become one of the most visible priorities for national governments, activist Internet organizations and many individual “Internet users”. Access and use of the Internet has become an essential part of the daily life of more than half of the world’s population. A myriad of apps can be found running on smartphones, laptops, and tablets, as well as their cloud service counterparts. Consumers with access to these resources can pay for a wide range of goods and services, discover valuable information, browse places they have never visited before, and share photos and videos with friends and followers. to social networks. And scientists can conduct research, use massive computing resources to analyze data treasure, and train and apply machine learning tools to solve problems. The list is much longer than that, of course. But for those who cannot access the Internet, those benefits are shortfalls.

Our ten-year discussions revealed many reasons for the lack of access. In some cases, the sheer cost is an insurmountable obstacle. In others, the necessary physical facilities, such as communications networks and the devices that use them, simply do not exist. Other challenges include sustainability; ability to constructively use and develop Internet applications; support for local content and languages; and safety, security and privacy in online environments. In the years to come, we must prioritize investments in new infrastructure, research to reduce costs, the adoption of regulations for the protection of users and training programs to prepare citizens for new jobs in the digital age. .

These are just a few of the challenges we faced during our discussions, but the full list is available on the Marconi Society website. I hope readers will consider contacting the Marconi Society at [email protected] with their ideas and join the conversation by submitting new challenges for us to consider.

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