It's becoming difficult to remember what it felt like during those early, pioneering days of the internet. It seemed to hold out so much promise. I don't mean the transactional convenience that dominates our usage today - online banking, booking holidays, music downloads, photos of kittens - but its more Reith-like ambitions. For a fleeting magical moment in time it held out the promise of new forms of political, social and personal expression and a more empowered, participative and inclusive society.
Then reality intervened. The internet was progressively concreted over and commercialised and in a lopsided Faustian bargain we somehow allowed our personal data to be exploited in return for "free" services. Whole new business models, criminals and even governments emerged from the shadows to exploit incompetent technological design and intrude into our lives.
Our use of technology increasingly blurs and entangles both its benefits and drawbacks. We have no easy, consistent way of understanding or controlling our digital experience. Too much of our technology lacks a set of engineering practices that ensure the same democratic principles and rights that we take for granted in the 'offline world' are applied online. Instead, users find themselves easily tricked into clicking on malware-infested attachments, while badly engineered technology facilitates denial-of-service attacks, eavesdropping, and man-in-the-middle attacks. No wonder a survey conducted in June 2013 by ComRes found that 68% of UK respondents were concerned about their personal privacy online.
Without improved design and engineering it's hard to see how we can restore trust in technology. But just as important as improving the way technology is engineered to be more secure we also need to ensure a much better user experience. We need smarter user interfaces, ones that make it easy and simple for even technophobes to understand. We need a consistent "ceremony" in our interactions with technology, a way of enabling us to navigate and control everything, from our wearable fitness devices and smartphones to nagging smart fridges and autonomous vehicles.
Government's response should not be a silo'd "digital bill of rights" (as if we somehow need a different set of rights online) or to join the commercial corporates in violating our personal data and security, but to ensure we enjoy the same rights and legal protections regardless of whether we are offline or online. What better time to make this happen than now - on the brink of the much-hyped Internet of Things (which will make such online/offline distinctions near impossible to make) and the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta?
The UK is well placed to combine our world-leading skills in computer science and technology with our tradition of democratic rights and values. Research investment needs to be redirected into the development of better-engineered technology that has privacy, security and usability designed-in at every level. This new generation of technology will benefit not just us, as users, but boost the UK's technology lead and our economic and global competitiveness too. It would also create something damagingly absent right now: technology we can trust.