Now, more than ever, we need to ask ourselves: What visions for the future should guide our lives today? What role should digital innovation play in these visions? How can we ensure that algorithms, artificial intelligence and other technologies foster inclusion, diversity and cohesion? The New New fellowship, a six-month stipend offered by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and Superrr Lab, provides individuals and teams from across Europe the opportunity to explore what visionary, just and inclusive digital futures might look like. Apply now (until January 6, 2021)!

The dystopian TV series Black Mirror depicts stories from a world in which technology has gained the upper hand over humankind. Individuality and diversity have lost out to excessive self-optimization, the choice of life partners is controlled through algorithmic personalization systems, and the pursuit of freedom has yielded to the power of entertainment. The hyperbole of this vision is unsettling precisely because of the strong parallels we can draw to our contemporary lives.

Digital transformation is clearly affecting all our lives. Yet it is notoriously difficult to fully comprehend the extent and nature of change while in the midst of it. In an effort to better understand where we stand today and the consequences of our current actions, we would do well to look into the future more often.

Europe’s approach to human-centric digital transformation lacks concrete visions for societal change

When it comes to digital transformation, the European consensus is most clear on what it doesn’t want: the radical capitalism of the United States or a surveillance state like that of China. Instead, the EU has set itself the goal of making artificial intelligence human-centered and trustworthy. Articulating this rather broad objective is undoubtedly an important first step. However, a closer look at the digital policy measures it has generated reveal an EU that is more reactive than proactive and thus always one step behind the rest. While European policymakers and civil society leaders focus on finding and fixing problems along the way, tech companies are engineering at high speed their version of the future.

The private sector has long understood that visionary thinking in an organization increases the collective ability to make coherent and strategic decisions. By articulating their vision of the future, organizations help motivate and orient the people within them. If Europe is to take on a more proactive approach to digital policy and foster public enthusiasm for change, we need more concrete and yet diverse visions of a better world! Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,  can be leveraged to develop such visions. However, digital transformation must always be understood as a tool, not a mean in itself. It is the social issues that must be at the center of discussion.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung, together with the non-profit Superrr Lab, is therefore launching an EU-wide fellowship program – The New New– which is aimed at developing inclusive digital visions of the future. Individuals across Europe who are working on artistic projects, stories, concepts or digital tools to explore such visions are invited to apply for a six-month stipend (Deadline: January 6, 2021). We are looking for teams or individuals envisioning futures in which new technologies improve all lives and foster equity in society. The fellowship program seeks to broaden public debate on digitalization by bringing perspectives from civil society to a discourse driven primarily by the private sector. We want to show that better digital futures are possible and explore the means of achieving them.

Designed to nurture discussion and thought experiments, The New New program does not aim to find quick fixes to the problems we face, nor does it aim to create a silver bullet. Instead, we believe processes are as important as outcomes.

A plurality of narratives for a fairer world

The tech sector notably lacks diversity, which means that the views and needs of many in society are not taken into account. Digital technologies are used in ways that benefit certain parts of the population and discriminate against already marginalized groups, thus deepening inequalities.

We therefore explicitly encourage applications by individuals who belong to groups that are underrepresented in tech debates (e.g., minorities across race, class, physical ability and gender). Diversity promotes innovation precisely because looking through the prism of different perspectives allows us to create something truly new.

The dystopian visions of Black Mirror are not premonitions. We believe in a better future and are convinced that it contains a plurality of narratives that we ourselves can imagine and shape. We’d love to have you join us in exploring this vast multitude of possible futures, which start here.

This text by Carla Hustedt was first published on Tagesspiegel, Background Digitalisierung 25.11.2020