The term “human-centric internet” describes an internet for humans. It highlights individual human concerns, in contrast to e.g. the Internet of Things (IoT), which is focused on connectivity for smart devices.
The European Commission’s Next Generation Internet (NGI) initiative aims for a human-centric internet.
Human concerns are plentiful, and since the current internet is build by humans, what precisely is it that makes a human-centric internet different from what we see today?
In a sense, the term is a reaction of recent developments in the web sphere, a call back to this technology’s roots. The web was built to disseminate information, to connect people by sharing knowledge.
While it’s clear that today’s internet is used for much more than sharing knowledge, some of those use-cases are no longer concerned with connecting people.
Taking the Internet of Things (IoT) as an example, we live in a world where the sum of every person’s concerns is represented by thousands of machines, all connected to the same internet. Whether it the home automation system that closes our shades, or the smart sensor triggering a field to be irrigated, these IoT devices do serve human needs.
However, the rise of surveillance capitalism shows like few other examples that not everything that happens on the internet has humanity’s best interests at heart. For a truly human-centric internet, we need to refocus our efforts.
Human-centric concerns include those related to how data – in particular, personally identifiable information – is handled, and therefore focus on:
- Data Transparency for a more transparent personal data storage and a more fine-grained data transfer when exercising personal data access rights;
- Data Compatibility & Interoperability to facilitate switches between service providers;
- Security & Privacy of consumers when their personal data are transferred from one provider to another.
- Service Portability to empower users to share their data with any service provider and host that they trust;
- Data Sovereignty to empower users to transfer a complete data set or parts of it to any new provider without giving reasons.
Additionally, human-centric concerns cannot zero in on these without concerns for the wider ecosystem, so must also include considerations for a green internet, which in practice means keeping computer usage to the what is necessary to support other human needs, by reducing:
- data storage;
- data transmission;
- duplicate processing;
- wasteful algorithms;
Finally, a human-centric internet is also trustworthy. Research shows that transparency is a key factor in building trustworthy technology. This applies not only to data storage and transmission, but additional concerns such as energy use, etc.
The Declaration of Digital Autonomy expresses similar values to the “human-centric” term. But where that declaration stands as a manifesto for technology users, human-centric technology focuses more on the design principles underpinning its creation. They’re two sides of the same coin.