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Digital technology-society link

Sylvain Allemand - 12/11/2013

What does the Institute for Digital Society do?

© Inria/Stéphanie Tétu

Nozha Boujemaa, Head of the Inria Saclay - Île-de-France research centre from 2010 to 2015, was one of the founders of the Institut de la société numérique (ISN - Institute for Digital Society) within the framework of the Idex Paris-Saclay. She explains the needs this institute fills, and its objectives.

Digital technologies arouse hopes as well as fears. Every day, we measure a few more of their many areas of application , from media to biodiversity, and including safety, health, etc. So much so, that we can speak of a "digital society". But what does it cover? What risks does it present for citizens? These are legitimate questions that deserve to be answered . Inria already has a close relationship with the Parliamentary Office for Scientific and Technological Choices. Additionally, we are carrying out scientific mediation work with junior secondary and secondary schools, in partnership, concerning the Saclay site, with the educational districts of Versailles, Créteil and Paris. But it also seems important to me to enlighten professionals as to what digital technologies cover, their potential, and the obstacles to their expansion .

Therefore, last year, I helped develop the idea of creating an Institute for Digital Society  within the framework of the Idex Paris-Saclay. It is intended to raise awareness about the need for a new approach : the barriers that we must bring down to ensure the deployment of digital technologies are not just technological; they are also economic and legal. Other economic models must be invented and regulatory constraints must be taken into account. This means there is a need to adopt a multi-disciplinary vision . This Institute mobilises digital legal experts, specialists in intellectual property law; innovation economists, specialists in security protocols for privacy, joint man-machine evolution, e-learning and MOOCs, etc. Beyond the technological challenges, these applications raise ethical, economic, and legal questions . The expansion of digital technologies also depends upon the degree of social acceptance or buy-in from individuals.

Naturally, these challenges do not only affect Inria. This is why the Institute comprises many of the other stakeholders  on the Plateau de Saclay: the Ecole Polytechnique, Télecom-ParisTech, the French atomic energy commission (CEA), the University of Paris-Sud, etc. There is no doubt that such an institute would have been more difficult to establish in another place. The Paris-Saclay ecosystem helped bring together engineers and specialists in social sciences and economics on cutting-edge questions related to digital technologies. Concretely, on a given topic, the Institute coordinates joint research projects . With the detachment we have, we can gauge the interest of comparing ourselves with specialists in other areas, including in the social sciences. This helps evaluate whether or not there is any interest in pursuing a given direction or possibility before starting a research project, even if only from a regulatory point of view. Let's take cloud computing: for it to function people must have trust, a human and social factor if ever there was one.

Excerpt from the interview "Toward a multi-disciplinary approach to digital technologies" on the Paris Saclay Media website

Keywords: Institute for Digital Society Nozha Boujemaa Idex Paris-Saclay Inria Saclay Île-de-France