NGI Forward: where are we?

NGI Forward is an international collaboration to shape the European Commission’s strategy for the future of the internet.
As we reach the mid-project mark in the 3-year journey, I would like to recap the progress we have made so far and set the scene for what’s coming next.

NGI Forward: project recap

Credits: Nasa on Unsplash

NGI Forward is the strategy and policy arm of the European Commission’s flagship Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative, which seeks to build a more democratic, inclusive, resilient, sustainable and trustworthy internet by 2030.

At a high level, these are the 5 steps of the project and where we are today

  • Challenge mapping
    • Identify the most pressing issues our society faces today in relation to the current state of the internet and other technologies
  • Ecosystem mapping
    • Identify the main enabling technologies to underpin the next generation internet and connect existing initiatives and actors 
  • Goals definition
    • Define the key objectives to guide the development of a more human-centric internet and inform policy and technology decisions
  • Vision for the future of the internet
    • Set out a shared vision for the future internet Europe should aim to create and a practical proof of concept to bring it to life 
  • Policy & technology roadmaps
    • Develop a set of concrete roadmaps and robust policy recommendations to achieve the target state for the next generation internet

Progress to date

Credits: Volodymyr Hryschenko on Unsplash

Challenge mapping – Ten challenges for the Internet 

Using data-driven topic mapping, expert input and our own analysis, we have picked ten key challenges that we believe should be addressed as part of our mission to build a more human-centric internet.

These ten challenges can be divided in three categories, depending on the core characteristic they refer to: 

  1. Resilience: Sustainable and Fair Infrastructure, Cybersecurity and Resilience, Trustworthy online information infrastructures, Online identities and trust.
  2. Inclusiveness: Decentralising power, The right to opt out and Self-govern, Data sovereignty.
  3. Democracy: Ethical AI and Machine Learning, A diverse and safe Internet, An accessible and open Internet.

Read more here.

Ecosystem mapping

Once the challenges had been mapped, we proceeded to identify the existing projects and policies addressing these challenges and involving the main actors in the NGI Forward discussion. These initiatives and trends provide foundations and a jump start for the NGI project, with some topics having already built momentum and following, while others are just beginning to emerge. Here are four of the main areas where initiatives relevant to the future internet have been mapped.

1- Sustainability and green ICT

The area of sustainability and green Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are important for the Commission as part of the European Green Deal, launched in December 2019 and looking at digital solutions as enablers of the green transformation. In particular, a New Circular Economy Action Plan was issued in March 2020 under the Green Deal to tackle the issue of unsustainable practices and products in the consumer electronics.

Climate impact of data centres

On our current trajectory, one estimate by Anders Andrae, a senior researcher at Huawei, predicts that by 2025 data centres will account for 33% of global electricity consumption. Given the central role of servers, cloud and data infrastructure in the internet’s cumulative environmental impact, preparatory work is ongoing at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) under the eco-design framework legislation to leverage the power of public spending by developing Green Public Procurement (GPP) criteria for data centres.

Right-to-repair & planned obsolescence

In the Circular Economy Action Plan, the European Commission announced that it will establish regulations to protect consumers against induced obsolescence of digital devices and softwares. Planned initiatives include laws to ensure that consumers receive trustworthy and relevant information on products at the point of sale (e.g., lifespan, availability of repair services and spare parts), to set minimum requirements for sustainability labels and to establish the ‘right to repair’, covering the availability of spare parts or access to repair and, in the case of ICT and electronics, to upgrading services.

Universal charges

The recent convergence of large parts of the mobile phone sector around USB micro-B and Type-C connectors as a common external power supply is largely a result of a  non-binding agreement signed by major manufacturers and initiated by the European Commission in 2009. However, the agreement expired in 2014 and efforts to adopt a new agreement have so far been fruitless. Legislative proposals are expected for Q3 2020, following an impact assessment published in January 2020 highlighting the social and environmental benefits of common connectors and interoperable power supplies.

Read more here

Critical raw materials

A list of scarce raw materials including some rare earths elements are economically and strategically important for sectors such as green technologies and consumer electronics. Today these are associated with high supply risks for the EU, strong dependence on imports from a small number of countries and a lack of viable alternatives and with the dangerous and often environmentally damaging conditions in which they are mined in non-EU countries. In the last 3 years, the Commission has compiled a list of critical raw materials and published reports on the potential role of these materials in a circular economy, including guidelines in areas such as manufacturing applications, trade, substitution and recycling. An Action Plan on critical raw materials to broaden international partnerships on access to raw materials has been announced in March 2020 as part of the “New Industrial Strategy for Europe”.

2- Artificial Intelligence

The Commission’s latest position and direction on the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are described in its February 2020 “White Paper on Artificial Intelligence” and in the reports by the High-Level Expert Group on AI (AI HLEG). 

AI adoption

Here are six actions the Commission’s white paper has identified to promote wider adoption of AI systems. 

  • Action 1: Revise and adopt a Coordinated Plan on AI by member states by the end of 2020.
  • Action 2: Facilitate the creation of excellence and testing centres combining European, national and private investments.
  • Action 3: Attract the best professors and scientists to leading universities and offer world-leading masters programmes in AI.
  • Action 4: Establish at least one digital innovation hub per member state with a high degree of specialisation on AI.
  • Action 5: Set up a new public private partnership in AI, data and robotics to combine efforts and ensure coordination of research and innovation in AI.
  • Action 6: Support public procurement of AI systems and help to transform public procurement processes themselves.

AI regulation

The white paper proposes no specific actions but a detailed elaboration of the motivations behind the regulatory interventions. It creates a categorical division between high-risks and non-high-risks applications and proposes possible avenues for prevention and remedies on (1) training data; (2) data and record-keeping; (3) information to be provided; (4) robustness and accuracy; (5) human oversight; (6) specific requirements for particular AI applications (e.g., those used for purposes of remote biometric identification).

The clearest path to implement legislative measures regulating AI is through the revision of the GDPR due to be proposed this year or through regulatory instruments due for review in areas of consumer laws and product liability.

AI ethics

AI HLEG published guidelines for a human-centric approach on AI, which list 7 key requirements that AI systems should meet in order to be trustworthy.

  1. Human agency and oversight, including fundamental rights, human agency and human oversight
  2. Technical robustness and safety, including resilience to attack and security, fall back plan and general safety, accuracy, reliability and
  3. reproducibility
  4. Privacy and data governance, including respect for privacy, quality and integrity of data, and access to data
  5. Transparency, including traceability, explainability and communication
  6. Diversity, non-discrimination and fairness, including the avoidance of unfair bias, accessibility and universal design, and stakeholder participation
  7. Societal and environmental wellbeing, including sustainability and environmental friendliness, social impact, society and democracy
  8. Accountability, including auditability, minimisation and reporting of negative impact, trade-offs and redress

3- Online identity

Electronic identity (eID) credentials exist to allow secure and seamless electronic interactions and transactions between citizens, businesses and public authorities. The current landscape of eID in the EU and globally is a mix of different and overlapping identity management systems, which all parties involved aspire to unify under a single system they will control.

 


 

The 2020 landscape of Digital Identity Schemes

1. Federated logins (lower assurance): e.g. Facebook ID, Googe ID
2. Federated logins (more assurance): e.g. Amazon, PayPal, Apple ID
3. Consumer identity access management (CIAM) more services
4. Citizen identity schemes: the EU eIDAS, UK Verify, India Aadhar
5. Mobile app-based IDs: Yoti, Verified.me
6. Decentralized IDs or self-sovereign identity (SSI) 

 


Electronic ID regulation

For eID to work effectively they need to be trusted by the parties and widely recognised. To enhance trust and promote the adoption of common standards, in 2014 the European Commission adopted the eIDAS regulation, which ensures that people and businesses can use their own national eID schemes to access public services in other EU countries where eIDs are available.

 Much of the current debate around Digital Identity systems revolves around the issue of decentralised vs. centralised systems and both blockchain and non-blockchain solutions are allowed in eIDAS. However, in its current version eIDAS makes centralised systems a de-facto requirement because of the way it sought to deliver a unified coverage of automated recognition across the EU.

 

4- Data interoperability and data portability

The purpose of data portability is to prevent a situation in which a user remains hostage of a particular service which holds its data. It also enables a fairer competition between providers by enabling other providers to make competing offers for prices based on actual usage data.

The related concept of interoperability refers to the format in which the data is made portable, which is expected to facilitate its access and use by parties other than the originating provider. 

In the present regulation, data portability is a right of the “data-contributor” from which a requirement of interoperability on the other party may or may not be explicitly derived.

“Data portability” and “interoperability” are useful terms to frame an issue inherent to digitalisation, which is found in just about every sector: the need to ensure that data-related rights are by-design part of the relationship between unequal parties. 

At this stage, data portability rights from the GDPR are not yet supported by a legally enforceable requirement to interoperability, and deciding and enforcing acceptable interoperability standards are mostly left to be decided by the courts.

Goals definition – eight goals for a human-centric internet

Bringing together our work on challenge and ecosystem mapping, NGI Forward defined eight key objectives to get us to a more “human-centric” internet and inform our policy and technology research. You can discover them here.

What’s coming next

Aquiles Carattino from Unsplash

 

We are preparing for the Next Generation Internet Policy Summit, organised by Nesta and the City of Amsterdam for 28-29 September 2020.  This milestone event will bring together a coalition of internet changemakers to lay out an ambitious European vision for the future internet and explore the policy interventions and technical solutions that can help get us there. 

The Summit is aimed at local, national and international policymakers but we also welcome researchers, innovators and civil society organisations who can share practical ideas for a more human-centric internet. 

Building on the foundations provided by the NGI Forward research, the Summit discussion will cover the following five topic areas:

  1. Trust & identity: How do we give citizens control over their own data and help them regain trust in online interactions? How can we best use the opportunities offered by new models of online identity and decentralisation to help us do this? 
  2. Sustainability & resilience: How can we leverage connectivity and smart technologies to build a more sustainable, resilient and ethically-sourced internet, and how can we conversely reduce the environmental footprint of the infrastructures underpinning the internet itself?   
  3. New models for the data economy: How do we respond to the extreme centralisation of power in today’s internet economy and the dominance of business models that favour the concentration and exploitation of personal data? How can we help alternative governance and ownership models, such as data commons and trusts, succeed? 
  4. Collective intelligence: How can Collective Intelligence be augmented through emerging technologies to identify problems or solutions, mobilise citizens, and solve the kinds of social challenges that individuals or technology alone cannot?  
  5. Inclusion: How do we ensure the future of the internet is more inclusive, representative and human-centric? How can it help break down economic, cultural and political barriers and contribute to European integration?

If you would like to join us, register your interest now.

We are also working on deep dive reports on some specific topics like the sustainability of the internet, digital identity, smart cities and innovative procurement, in order to inform our work in setting out a broad vision for the future of the internet.

Will publish in the weeks running up to the Summit in September, so stay tuned for updates!