For the SSC Blockchain initiative and the digital civilisation conference

Bill Roscoe


I present an idealistic but hopefully practical vision of how technology can become more trusted than any individual who uses it as a discussion paper for the Digital Civilisation conference. I concentrate on three aspects of this: control of personal data, the automation of regulation, and improving the trust in the supply chain of hardware and software components that are required to implement it. It is written to indicate the directions a blockchain-based collaborative environment can work, indicating some intriguing solutions based on the combination of blockchain and trusted computing.

The topics of Chapters 2 and 3, namely the regulatory blockchain or Regchain, and using blockchain to remove mistrust from supply chains, can stand alone as well as forming part of a comprehensive digital civilisation.

Find out more about the Digital Civilisation Conference

Chapter 1: What is Digital Civilisation?

Digital technology is advancing at a fantastic, some would say alarming, rate. It is takingover so much of how we interact with the world and each other. However it more reflectscommercial opportunities and disconnected attempts to streamline government servicesthan a proper digital civilisation. It offers the chance for a smoother and easier life while threatening a loss of personal privacy. We believe that society should develop ways of making all this technology more cohesive, more ethical and more respectful of the individual. We think that society should come together and organise the rules by which it expects technology to play, and the technological tools to allow a cohesive digital civilisation to grow. These two things are the core of our digital civilisation initiative.

The user should be presented with questions in the same way by different providers of services, probably after the questions have been subjected to automated analysis.

The internet and World Wide Web are the fabric of this technology and must be at the core of digital civilisation. The needs of digital civilisation will set much of their future agenda.

The communications implementing digital civilisation must flow freely and efficiently.

This manifesto sets out the sort of definitions and rules of digital civilisation that we expect the conference and its committees to work on. We would expect, under the overall steering committee, there to be committees on ethics, technical matters, privacy and big data, health data, commerce and trade. We seek a digital commonwealth based on wide participation, wide consensus that achieves a stable equilibrium that enforces total integrity and ethics.

What is digital civilisation?

Civilisation is the coming together of people and peoples to create an ordered and functioning society that builds a safe and generally peaceful life for its inhabitants. It enables services and culture for the people to emerge. Civilisations have well organised government that keeps society together. In a harmonious society the rights of the individual are protected in balance with others’ rights and to some degree the need to keep a stable society. In the modern world, Governments should exist and function only by the consent of the society they govern.

Digital civilisation provides structures through which we interact with governments,companies and each other, guaranteeing transparency, uniformity and adherence to common principles and rules.

Civilisation is too important for us to allow Big Tech companies to design it for their own benefit. They have a huge role to play but should not be allowed to design its rules or to gather huge amounts of data on us without a much greater degree of informed consent than we see at present.

Civilisation is thus a combination of stable government, the tools and components that enable society and the people in it to function, plus the people and organisations that exist in it. The components are things like healthcare, schools and universities, the trading of money and assets, and taxation. By tools here we mean things the establishment of laws and the means such as courts and regulators by which these function Civilisation provides the platforms for commerce and trade. In the modern world, civilisations have to function in harmony, and while individual cultural and national groups may develop distinctiveaspects to their civilisations, there needs to be a global concept of civilisation within which all operate and a global infrastructure that supports it.

Civilisations tend to break down when the way they operate is contrary to the consent of the people, when there are too many opportunities for unfairness or corruption, or where the clashes between interest groups or neighbouring civilisations become too stressed.

In the modern world, digital technology enables rapid interactions and takes over, for example in social media, trading and the holding of data. It is also providing undreamed of possibilities for activities through “big data”: some of these are plainly civilised, some plainly not, and some open to debate. In order for it to fit into civilisation, this technology must itself be civilised: an expression in which “civilised” can equally be read as a verb or an adjective. In other words, such functions should be rule-based where the rules maintain the principles of civilisation.

Digital technology can replace or supplement mechanisms from traditional civilisation,where these can be made more efficient or offer ways to avoid the fallibility of humans, for example in the integrity and transparency of procurement processes, the running of elections, or the keeping of public records.

We argue, however, that to serve such purposes in a truly civilised manner, the processes and programs implementing such functions of society need to be made transparent and subject to inspection and review; and if necessary, modification.

The present civilisation we live in developed over thousands of years and is far from perfect.The rapid development of technology that is driving change at the moment does not give us time to reflect and is too vulnerable to technology companies and governments driving it to suit their own ends such as making money or suppressing dissident opinion. Digitalcivilisation must respect the values of traditional civilisation and must look like evolution rather than revolution to those whose lives it affects. Ethics and agreed ethical standards must govern it.

Participating in the digital civilisation should become a commercial necessity for governments and companies large and small for access to trade, data and markets. Its success can be encouraged if given special status in the management of identity and personal data. For example, it might implement uniform standards and technology for the collection of data that could be mandated by governments or insisted on by public demand.

It should not be acceptable to have to sign up to opaque “Terms and Conditions” to gain access to services without these being scrutinised automatically by utilities provided by digital civilisation and compared against personal limits.

Download the Digital Civilisation Manifesto