The Digital Discourse Initiative

The initiative analyses the transformation of digital discourse, marking a crucial shift from prioritizing intangible elements -software, data, services, experiences and interactions- to focusing on material components (hardware). The initiative intends to follow the evolution of the public discourse that expands the scope of digital ethics to encompass Governance, Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (GELSI) associated with physical elements such as rare earth minerals, semiconductor manufacturing, and data infrastructure. The material infrastructure (to use an all-encompassing expression) is the substratum necessary for any digital connectivity and interaction.

The digital has always been also material, but its material nature has become crucial only recently. Any careful observer of societal changes knows that we are now witnessing a hardware turn. The discourse is increasingly focusing on the material aspects of the digital revolution, much more than fashionable futurologists imagined only a decade ago.

The hardware turn does not replace but broadens the scope of digital ethics, by recognizing the GELSI  of all aspects of the digital revolution, including the mining of rare earth minerals, the production and market of semiconductors, the manufacturing of all kinds of digital devices (not only smartphones, laptops, or robots) and digital components for analogue technologies (e.g. cars and aeroplanes) and the creation and location of immense data centres.

This transition is not solely driven by academic observations but also by political recognition of the strategic importance of digital sovereignty. Striking a balance is imperative, advocating for an ontology that acknowledges both the physical and social foundations of the digital landscape.

The initiative contributes by conducting research on the ethical implications of material components in the digital landscape, offering strategic consultancy to governments to address this challenges and advocating for policies.

This initiative and introductory text were inspired by the paper The Hardware Turn in the Digital Discourse: an Analysis, Explanation, and Potential Risk

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