Knowledge Economy: Outmaneuvering Disinformation & Injustice

The widespread ongoing assault on open access to truth is spreading injustice and obstructing greatly needed innovation.

For 240 years, one after another society acted in some way to break free from the deep injustice of the feudal system, in which some people owned others and human rights were more an ideal than a reality. The right to live free from fear of persecution or deprivation is contingent not only on democracy and the rule of law, but on access to information.

Most nations on Earth have now had some experiment with democratic process. We are now grappling with the question of whether we can uphold the right of all people to access, understand, and act on truth. Uncertainty on this question poses a threat to all aspects of the human economy and to our ability to innovate at the speed necessary to solve existential challenges.

Our ability to innovate and to work together to uplift humankind is contingent on our ability to build an evolving evidence-based understanding of how specific choices change our prospects for future wellbeing.

The right to know is a foundation for high-value innovation.

Building knowledge through science is the solid ground on which innovation stands. Not knowing what is or is not real means standing on unstable ground. Working to achieve solutions that do not do enough to extricate us from deficits we don’t understand means standing on quicksand.

For example:

  • If you want to sell food to a national market, you need to know what people want.
  • People need to know whether the food they are buying is healthy.
  • If they do not, related health costs will undermine their ability to pay for better food.
  • All elements of a free society should conspire to make sure people know whether they are helping or hurting themselves when they make choices.
  • If you are selling food that harms them, and they become aware, you will lose market share, and eventually lose the market.
  • You cannot innovate to solve this problem unless you 1) know what is needed, 2) know the science, and 3) can work in a market where knowledge is valued.
  • In a free society, the right to seek redress can never be abridged.

This means those who lag behind what is required to serve others in a better way, at and beyond the state of the art, and without generating needless harm, will ultimately fail in the marketplace. The right to know is a foundation for high-value innovation.

Disinformation skews outcomes & adds cost.

So, the ongoing disinformation crisis means:

  1. Our democracy has a problem.
  2. Our public health is actively suffering.
  3. Our climate and biosphere are undergoing serious, pervasive disruption.
  4. Our industrial food system is a threat to its own sustainability.
  5. Our ability to solve each of these is impaired by a flawed information environment and erosion of the right to know.

Governing, living our daily lives, investing and doing business, all depend on our ability to ensure widespread routine access to reliably truthful information.

The knowledge economy belongs to all minds.

When we talk about “the knowledge economy”, there tends to be a bias toward knowledge-economy activities as elite pursuits, requiring advanced degrees and management of complex networks of technology and enterprise. That is the tip of the iceberg.

The knowledge economy belongs to all minds; we will not succeed in fully extricating ourselves from the abuses of the feudal system, or the failings of merciless industrialization, unless we work to ensure ready, actionable access for all people to a broad, deep, diverse landscape of evidence-based knowledge. That generalized everyday knowledge economy must harness the most powerful transformational feature of information technology: its ability to make everyone into a lifelong learner, innovator, and driver of new knowledge.

It has been said “data is the new oil”. Maybe. But we are facing, simultaneously, serious threats to security, privacy, and democracy, that put the knowledge economy and personal political sovereignty at risk. Data will never approach its true market value unless everyone’s role in data production, alignment, and evolution, can be honored, protected, and rewarded.

The next phase in “the digital transformation” will see information, energy, and wealth, flowing together to allow everyone to generate, hold, and harness value in ways that were never before possible. This means integrated decentralized systems that are more democratic and also much smarter—and which foster a culture of inclusive prosperity and shared stewardship.

21st century economic “liberalization”—the opening of flows of value to more people—must be sustainable, and regenerative, and so it must honor the value of all people, while ensuring everyday wealth and capability can be accessed and harnessed by everyone.

The viability of economies large and small depends on it.

The image at the top of this article shows recipients of the 2019 Equator Prize—all of whom are leading locally, building climate intelligence and resilience for their communities, and providing examples of leadership for others around the world.


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