Scientific Foresight (STOA) By / February 2, 2016

How the collaborative internet and 3D printing might change the EU

Written by Guillermo Garrido-Lestache and Nera Kuljanic, Background Internet-related technologies are already shaping the world in previously inconceivable ways. The…

Copyright: Annalise Duca / AcrossLimits Ltd

Written by Guillermo Garrido-Lestache and Nera Kuljanic,


How the collaborative internet and 3D printing might change the EU
Copyright: Annalise Duca / AcrossLimits Ltd

Internet-related technologies are already shaping the world in previously inconceivable ways. The collaborative economy, big/open data, crypto-currencies and additive manufacturing (such as 3D printing) are just some of these technologies, and their potential to change the world, our lives and society as we know them were explored at a workshop hosted by STOA earlier this year. STOA has recently followed-up with the publication of its study ‘Impact and Potential of Collaborative Internet and Additive Manufacturing’. The study includes a review of the latest developments for each of the technologies listed above, a forecast of the likely breakthroughs in the next 10 years, an assessment of their potential impact, identification of the key stakeholders, and the formulation of a series of policy options. The findings are summarised in this video.

Impact and Potential

New technologies look set to become part of the accelerating co-creation process, which will drive a fast-changing market for goods and services. As an example, 3D printing is changing the manufacturing and healthcare industries, as users become an active part of the process and products are personalised. In the near future, we can expect to have 3D printed drugs, furniture, food and clothes. It will also become increasingly common for new businesses to be crowdfunded. Crypto-currencies may enable new economic relations and the creation of crypto contracts. In another development, open data allows people to access, use and distribute information freely, without any legal, economic or sociocultural restrictions.

Policy Options

The study presents a series of policy options looking at how we deal with the opportunities presented by these new technologies. It suggests that the EU should stimulate a free flow of co-created ideas and support those who work across borders to boost economic growth. It also points to the need to rethink EU IP rules, fair use policies and consumer protection policies that reflect these emerging capabilities. Increasing European competitiveness in a collaborative economy also has implications for copyright and patent rules across the Member States. The EU could also consider creating new, enforceable regulations, capable of supporting and protecting all stakeholders in the collaborative economy and eliminating the legal uncertainties that follow from the usually transnational nature of collaborative technologies.

Decentralised stock exchanges and insurance companies will very likely emerge, and it is possible that within these aspects of a collaborative cyber-currency market, authorities will have difficulty regulating the activities which take place using current approaches. The collaborative economy is likely to heighten the tensions between traditional legal approaches of ownership and the introduction of modern practices that focus on fair use, open access creative licences and flexible licensing structures. ‘Personal’ and ‘Private’ need new definitions in a world where data are universal and even personal data sets are a tradable good, and a distinction needs to be made between data subject, data owner, data collector and data user.

An official recognition process should be established for crypto-currencies, to include them in the rest of the economy, with similar status to that of conventional currencies. Similarly, politicians should engage a wider set of advisory bodies in the debate on additive manufacturing policy, currently limited to established traditional manufacturers.

Modifying existing education policies would ensure that skills relevant to emerging technologies are acquired by as many people as possible, so that everyone may contribute to and benefit from the co-creation of this new collaborative economy. The report argues that global policy formulations are required in the collaborative economy because it operates on a global scale, regardless of national or regional borders. Furthermore, the report considers that policy should strive to be ahead of developments, as digital technology evolves so fast that policy implementation always lags behind, harming its prospects and development. As an example, policy should be informed by the disintermediation and decentralisation processes occurring in the manufacturing sector, as these will have profound effects upon society and market structures. Finally, other policy issues considered in the study include the provision of internet access and availability for all sectors of society, objective consideration of fears of criminal use, and protecting and regulating the notion of ‘individual identity’.

Check the study on the STOA website or watch a summarising video clip.

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