As the world speeds into a future defined by technology and information, little consideration is being given to the protection of rights of most people. From the impacts of automation on jobs, to the misinformation threatening democracies, and even how artificial intelligence is affecting the opportunities of marginalized populations, more and more we find our experience is controlled by a handful of companies and people. Progress is important, but it cannot come at the cost of sacrificing the rights of many of the most vulnerable people in society.

While some legislators have campaigned on elements of an equitable digital future, leaders in the US have yet to give meaningful attention to their responsibility as representatives and advocates for the interests of their communities over and above the interests of these large and increasingly powerful corporations.

The first step in addressing the growing impacts of digitalisation is to explore and limit the impacts of the most invasive technologies. Besides risks to critical political infrastructure in our country, without regulation, innovations such as automation are prepared to change the entire American economy by eliminating many popular jobs, like driving trucks or working in the service industry. Importantly, these are the kind of jobs that are often held by the most marginalized populations in our society, who are least able to counter the effects of such a technology. With well thought out policy, informed by data, we stand a better chance at allowing many more people to successfully evolve with this new age of digitalisation. Without it, we risk leaving these people behind.

The first step in crafting such policy, is to develop industry-government coalitions to explore the potential risks and actual impacts of technology related to opportunities, safety, and the economy. By facilitating transparency, collaboration, and direct engagement, representatives committed to the public good can begin to educate both themselves and their constituents to the risks and the rewards that such technology can bring. Creating a shared national dialogue on these topics will be key in building an inclusive and representative digital future.

From undermining democracies, to violating civil liberties, artificial intelligence has already begun to play a role in the everyday lives of Americans, and people all around the world. Creating initial safeguards for corporations experimenting with the manipulation of information or the collection of personal data will prevent initial harm while leadership and legislation catches up to this rapidly evolving technology. Specific guidance such as requiring disclaimers for manipulated images, or restricting the use of facial recognition technology for private interests will draw clear lines protecting civil liberties, and steer digitalisation in the direction of shared public good. Additionally, implementing penalties for initiatives which cause outright harm to the public good would be a strong start to mitigating the impending risk for society. Using legislation to codify boundaries for technologies which have already caused death or discrimination, such as Tesla’s Autopilot mode or Amazon’s gender bias in hiring, can prevent future harm by creating a minimum threshold for safety while technologies and safeguards continue to evolve.

Lastly, it is critical that states and other entities commit funding for public education programs in preparation for the digital future. Topics including ethics, critical thinking, and meaningful social connection will be an important part in developing a society which benefits from and can participate in progress, rather than simply reacting to exploitive outcomes. For example, the existing digital divide is massive and has only recently begun to be addressed: over 19 million Americans - six percent of the population - still do not have access to broadband internet. While companies at the other end of the scale continue to explore impactful artificial intelligence and data science completely unfettered, huge populations in rural and tribal areas have yet to begin to understand the complications of a digital future.

Digitalisation has the power to elevate and improve the lives of millions, but it can only do so if it is properly directed and regulated. Not by big tech, but by the people with an eye towards the public good. A combination of education, collaboration, and early safeguards with meaningful penalties can pave the way for a positive future.