Digital transformation could lead to a societal revolution

Political, economic and human power is shifting


The changes initiated by digital transformation could ultimately have huge consequences for society’s economic and political structures, and eventually for the human race itself. This is suggested by Prof. Dr. Bob de Wit in his inaugural lecture: ‘On the eve of a societal revolution…’ Digital technologies and the introduction of robots will cause almost half the jobs to disappear in the stabilizing middle-class. Applying biotechnology and artificial intelligence in human-like robots could well lead to new societal inequality. De Wit argues for new strategic leadership to meet the challenge.

Competing for power
In his lecture De Wit suggests that economic power may become concentrated in the hands of a select number of private parties thanks to digital technologies. He observes the germ of this embedded in the association, ‘Partnership on Artificial Intelligence’ which five of the world’s largest technology companies have set up. He characterizes this association as being part of the ‘competition for power’ with its underlying context: who will ultimately control Artificial Intelligence? “Influential people including scientist Stephen Hawking, visionary and inventor Elon Musk and Microsoft founder Bill Gates warn that humanity will eventually no longer be in control over Artificial Intelligence,” warns Prof. De Wit. “It is important that society voices its critical opposition to this.”

Citizens are data
Digital transformation makes it possible for the authorities to exercise complete control over the citizen and several are already working towards this end, cautions De Wit: “In Singapore, a protective program against terrorism has been evolved into a system exercising control over a range of policy areas. In China, every citizen receives a ‘Citizen’s Score’ through search-engine Baidu, based on their surfing habits and social networks. The Chinese government is participating in this China Brain Project. The ‘Citizens Score’ determines the conditions for getting jobs, loans and visas among other things. Citizens are reduced to data.” De Wit anticipates that parliamentary democracies will come under pressure through these developments, and expects serious societal resistance to arise.

Human-like robots
The combination of artificial intelligence, worldwide big data and infinite memory using biotechnology, will all lead to an improved version of humanity. Bob de Wit suggests that technology will ultimately have the ability to take over human functions and to evolve into a superior form. De Wit believes these ‘humanoids’ will become the third competitor for power in the future.

Strategic leadership
Prof. De Wit concludes in his lecture that the current societal context is not geared up for these rapid technological changes. He thus argues in favor of new strategic leadership, launched by the next generation. He believes this generation of young leaders needs to form a powerful countermovement able to offer society an attractive alternative view of the future. From his Strategic Leadership chair, Bob de Wit will take the initiative to connect future leaders with leading international thinkers and entrepreneurs. De Wit: “My mission is that strategic leadership will take the lead in change. I have touched on the need for change in my lecture, which I will continue to propagate from my chair. At the same time I will actively explore and pursue the possibilities of this new era with young leaders.”


About Nyenrode Busines Universiteit
Nyenrode Business Universiteit is the only private university in the Netherlands. The institute was founded in 1946 for and by the business community. Nyenrode prepares ambitious and talented people for a career in a management, entrepreneurial or accountancy position within an international environment and attaches great value to social awareness and sustainable leadership with as motto: Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Stewardship.

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