Optimising the social, economic and environmental potential of the 4IR: alternatives and policy proposals

Overcoming vulnerabilities and potential risks requires the identification and exploration of realistic alternatives. Fortunately, a significant number of proposals is expressed today in the ongoing vibrant European and international public discussion. These discussions address a broad set of dimensions such as:

  • The application of new criteria for the evaluation of technologies in order to prioritise IoT, AI and automation projects with the highest potential for achieving SDGs
  • The launching of a large and representative European public debate on the priorities of the digital transition and 4IR
  • The creation of sound and effective regulatory insight capacity
  • The implementation of actions against economically and socially harmful practices due to extreme market power and concentration in the digital sector
  • The shaping of an ambitious European industrial policy addressing intra-European productive heterogeneity especially in the field of new 4IR-related industries.


Others priorities refer to the necessity to overcome the shortage of sufficient cloud infrastructures in Europe by addressing trends towards increasing distribution and decentralization of data processing and the urgency of a massive scale-up of investments so as to ensure a certain degree of digital sovereignty.


On social issues, the elaboration of a comprehensive strategy for a just digital transition -in line with the just climate transition approach- could contribute to tackle the digital divide. Such an approach would focus on the universal access to internet services and on their affordability, on universal digital education and skills and on the promotion of human-centric digital public services. Initiatives for imposing strict ethical principles to algorithms and protecting children from risks in the online space and from their overexposure to digital devices appear to be important concerns of European citizens. Besides, ongoing discussions on the establishment of a universal basic income is directly related to the structural impact on employment of automation and AI.


Regarding environmental issues, the ongoing discussions stress on the improvement of the environmental and climate impact of the digital economy (‘digital ecology’) through a set of actions fostering the circularity of the digital devices such as the ‘Right to Repair’ of the European Green Deal and more broadly, on public policies promoting digital sobriety, ‘lean ICT’ and green innovations of the 4IR.  Finally, the elaboration of applied policies for the development of the commons economy and P2P modes of production would be a decisive step for boosting social innovation, knowledge and urban commons and enabling relocalisation of productive activities in a sustainable way.