The Networked Society

An ever-increasing number of people, places and things are being connected to each other via networks. This is driving transformative changes across the community impacting the economy, society and culture. These connections are changing how people live, work, travel and socialise, how we manage the environment, and how business and services are delivered.

The driving force of this transformation is the concurrence of digital, networking and automated technologies. The shift from analogue to digital has impacted many different industries, via the increased creation, processing and use of data across society. Networking technologies are enabling the greater interconnection of people, places and things via the Internet and supporting increased volumes of data. Finally, automation is occurring through the application of data, computer processing power, and robotics. Automation is moving beyond the internet and is an emerging feature across industries enabling new services, displacing workers and supporting new applications.

The use of digitising, networking and automating technologies provide a lens to assess how the networked society is impacted in specific domains. Practical examples include the use of these technologies for autonomous vehicles which are altering the economics and logistics of moving people and goods, and having real impacts on urban environments and supply chains. Increased access to data can improve the monitoring of health, but the advantages of the use of the same data in corporate and state surveillance is less certain. Finally, new technologies are enabling new ways of connecting with people, information and things. For example, virtual and augmented reality are changing service delivery and how people can experience the world.

An increasingly connected world has eliminated the traditional barriers of space, time, and exclusivity, through access to different networking platforms. Such dynamic interactions raise concerns about security, privacy, and data protection. However, this must be balanced against the benefits of increased access to enhanced services, products, and relationships made possible based on the automated conversion of data into aggregated knowledge.

The provision of services, such as health, transport, government and education can now be customised to individual needs. Additionally, automation is altering the nature of work. This is having an impact upon future work place arrangements and practices, enabling productivity gains, and transforming entire industries, providing significant benefits for the community. However, the potential negative impacts of these transformations also need careful consideration.

There are some fundamental questions about how society engages with these new technologies. In a world of multiple legal jurisdictions, regulatory regimes and ethical considerations, the nature of how data is obtained, stored, processed and used is a key challenge. This requires reconceptualising information security and integrity from social, political, legal, ethical and governance perspectives.

The University of Melbourne's Networked Society Institute is uniquely positioned to drive the essential interdisciplinary research required to further our understanding of the networked society and to address the many challenges presented above. The Institute also seeks to drive positive societal impacts via technology and mitigate the potential negative outcomes through better knowledge, good design, and fundamental safeguards.