[W]e tend to focus on how technology will advance, but not on how that new technology will alter the way we live our lives in more fundamental ways…
Our nations are now undergoing a digital revolution, which will radically reshape them once again — this time into borderless online communities with services that can be accessed anywhere there is an internet connection. Consider the fact that Estonia already offers almost every public service online. As Estonian President Kaljulaid recently pointed out, Estonia is the first digital society with its own state, although plenty more will follow…
[My newborn son] was given his ID number almost immediately after he was born into our advanced digital nation of Estonia. This forms the basis for his secure digital identity, which he will use throughout his life for authenticating himself online and accessing e-services from both the public and the private sector.
While we were busy admiring our new child at the hospital, the doctor was busy entering the first data about him into our state’s Population Registry — such as his name, sex, date of birth and the fact we are his parents.
This information is really useful straight away because various parts of government would need it to better serve us as new parents, such as by scheduling health checks, supporting with child care and allocating our parental leave allowance. This would generate added hassle for new parents in most countries, but in Estonia the information begins flowing automatically between departments and agencies along our secure, decentralised information network known as the ‘X-road’.
When we got home from the hospital and finally took our eyes off our child long enough to open up a computer, we logged in using our own secure digital identities and used our permission as parents to add one more vital bit of data — his name, Ruufus.
This is his story so far, but it’s going to get far more interesting.
By the age of 7, Ruufus will be starting school to learn to read, write and code like all other children. That doesn’t mean we expect him to code an app one day, any more than we expect him to write a novel, but these are the basic skills that he will need to understand the world around him.
Ruufus’ time at school will coincide with rapid advances in the development of artificial intelligence and blockchain technology and this will be used by governments to make smarter decisions and deliver vastly more efficient public services. Ruufus probably won’t have the option of a career in the civil service ahead of him, but he will instead prepare for new jobs that we can’t yet begin to imagine.
His schoolwork will be set and completed digitally and — unfortunately from his perspective now— that means we’ll always know if he has homework to do.
Ruufus won’t just grow up in our digital nation, but also in a truly digitalised world where e-services are trusted by everyone and offline concepts like ink signatures, scanning and posting will seem absurdly old fashioned…
By the age of 15, Ruufus might want to start earning his own money for the first time. He won’t need to restrict his employment opportunities to local businesses however as it will be just as easy to collaborate with people (and instantly get paid by them) on the opposite side of the planet. Cryptocurrencies currently show no sign of disappearing so it is more likely that they will have evolved by then into viable decentralised currencies in which he’ll want to receive payments. That means governments will have needed to figure out how to accept (and tax them) by this point too.
But perhaps governments don’t have to ‘tax’ Ruufus by then anyway. Governments can instead earn their main source of income by selling their services globally in the form of monthly subscriptions — much like how Netflix currently delivers its service.
We would have to ensure that this is done in a way that improves the welfare of everyone, such as those in need of healthcare. By using smart contracts based on blockchain technology for example, Ruufus could start allocating his money directly to those that need it with greater transparency and efficiency, without the need for government middlemen (like me!).
At age 18, Ruufus might want to go explore the world for himself. Fortunately, he won’t have to save up his money or do too much planning first because so much of his life will already be location-independent, including his source of income. This is already the reality for an increasing number of ‘digital nomads’ today, but Ruufus will have the added opportunity to choose which nations that he wants to serve him globally.
The rise of Estonia as a leading digital nation came as a surprise to many so perhaps Ruufus will also choose to be an e-resident of nations that seem surprising to us now because developing nations that embrace digital disruption could quickly overtake developed countries that don’t.
Like me, I hope Ruufus will always be proud to be Estonian, but everyone benefits from increased engagement with other countries. He could choose to run a company in Botswana to access the emerged African business environment. He could choose to pay personal taxes (or a subscription) to South Korea to benefit from their world leading health cover and social protections.
While travelling at this age, Ruufus will also be legally allowed to have his first drink in a bar across most countries. He won’t need to prove his age though as he can just use his government-backed digital ID if challenged to show that he is legally allowed in. An important principle that we already have in Estonia is that organisations are only allowed to access the minimum amount of data that they can justify needing. The bars have no reason to know Ruufus’ date of birth because they merely want to request the answer to their question about whether he is over 18.
During his 20s, Ruufus might want to settle in one location or live across many. One very important difference to most people today though is that he can make this decision more freely without the need to live next to his place of work or study. Remote work is already acceptable in many industries and it will soon become the norm. This will help alleviate some of the biggest challenges of modern life today, such as the stress and expense of living in crowded cities, as well as the pressures caused by migration.
Consider the disruptive impact of elevators, for example. Before they were introduced, the upper floors were the least desirable because they were the least accessible, but that is now the opposite. In a similar way, Rufus might not feel the need to migrate away to London or Berlin in order to find work. I do hope he has even more freedom to travel than me, but he could also enjoy the freedom to access opportunities from around the world — while living in our beautiful Estonian countryside if he wishes.
In 30 years… Ruufus will have been building up his pension through his subscriptions to Japan but he may also have enough money to invest more heavily in a country of his choice. Right now, ‘investing in a country’ just means investing in property and businesses within a particularly country, but Ruufus might have the option to literally invest in a country.
After examining white papers from various countries, Ruufus could choose to invest in crypto tokens issued by the one with the best plan for the future. Perhaps Ruufus enjoyed visiting the tiny island nation of Fiji during his travels and now wants to invest in their digital development. In the digital era, there will be no reason why nations can’t scale up and achieve vast growth in the same way that great startups do today. If a nation like Fiji can use the investment to deliver services that solve people’s problems globally then the country could achieve astronomical growth.
Ruufus has an enormous head start in this emerging digital world where far too many people currently face financial exclusion because the services they need are either unaffordable or unavailable in their location. By the time he is older than me though, I hope those advantages that we enjoy as Estonians are available to everyone…
Originally published as “The next big industry to face digital disruption will be our nations,” Medium, November 16, 2017 (https://medium.com/e-residency-blog/what-is-a-nation-children-born-today-will-grow-up-with-a-radically-different-answer-b31f14403c3c).