Effects of Unregulated Digitalization on Health and Democracy

November 29, 2023


We are witnessing the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, the digital transformation of all areas of life and production. Aspects of digitalization, if implemented responsibly, can have advantages, for instance, when it comes to global connectivity, the access to information, distance learning and work. Such advantages have been broadly advertised and discussed which is why there is no need to repeat them here. Rather, this document will discuss the obscured aspects of digitalization that are all too often ignored.

In vast parts, what is being presented as digitalization today is a hype, an ideology and a guarantee for material profit and power that is not being questioned. It is sold to the public and political representatives via a progress narrative developed by the IT industry as well as other stakeholders with an interest in the Fourth Industrial Revolution such as the World Economic Forum (WEF). It is being said that if we don’t welcome everything that is technologically feasible and don’t digitize every aspect of our lives and economy, we are going to get left behind economically and will become outcasts socially.

This carefully crafted narrative plays with existential angst and fear of exclusion. It is designed to make people accept unquestioningly everything that comes in the name of digitalization. While we welcome valuable innovations, we should be clear about destructive ones and oppose their implementation. The umbrella term of digitalization includes a number of positive and negative innovations, the latter presenting a severe threat to health, essential human rights and democracy that must not be underestimated.

The public and decision-makers need to differentiate and be careful what they welcome and what they oppose in the name of digitalization. A sober analysis of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 shows that, in practice, people are getting left behind and harmed because of unregulated and unrestricted digitalization. Yet, from modern-day slaves and child workers mining the raw materials for end products under inhumane and partly deadly conditions to detrimental physical and mental health effects of certain technological products, the erosion of the essential right to privacy and informational self-determination, the flourishing of illegitimate data mining and biometric surveillance, 4 the projected replacement of parts of the human work force by machines, data safety concerns and threats posed by the Artificial Superintelligence arms race, real-world negative effects are being overshadowed by the shiny marketing and frenzied narratives of a trillion-dollar industry as well as ideologically invested interest groups such as the WEF.

The destructive potential of the Industry 4.0, if handled in the wrong way, for the environment and the ecosystem as well as its massive wastage of energy as well as other resources are likewise being widely ignored. However, local grassroot campaigns, human rights organizations and political activists as well as renowned scientists have been increasingly successful in raising awareness about the above mentioned aspects of the digital transformation hype that warrant acute and immediate public attention.

Purpose of this document

This document provides an overview of aspects of the process of digitalization that negatively impact (public) health, essential human rights and democracy. It also contains policy recommendations to effectively address these issues and avert harm. Further, this document is meant to empower the reader to take informed decisions in their own every-day life when interacting with specific technologies and the effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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