By Artur Kluz and Mikolaj Firlej
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this year, Marc Bernioff, the founder and CEO of salesforce.com, said in a panel debate, “We are in a leadership crisis. We are not in a technology crisis; we are in a technology revolution. We are going to see technology shifts and changes on a scale that we have never seen on this planet.” He added, “Every country needs a Minister of Future.”
There is no doubt that technologies serve leaders across the world as new sources of both power and governance. However, it is also true that they require an open-minded and human approach and sufficient technological administration.
Sadly, it is difficult to find in the world of politics an engaging, open-minded approach to the use of technologies for the betterment of humanity. Political leaders tend to focus on threats of new technologies, and they are often reluctant to promote technology to overcome the most important 21st century challenges, such as growing inequality. A constructive shift from “beware of tech” to “tech for good” is yet to come—although there have been some good starts. In Davos, encouraging words came from Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, who stressed that technology should serve the case of human progress, and that “leadership should be focused on extending the ladder of opportunity for everyone.”
The importance of cross-sector leadership in tackling the most difficult global challenges is one of the most significant issues in international relations today. In 2015, President Barack Obama carried this message amid the debate on the Combat Terrorist Use of Social Media Act, which demands a comprehensive strategy to counter terrorists’ and terrorist organizations’ use of social media. Obama underlined the role of Silicon Valley’s tech companies in addressing problems like security.
Besides the rarity of open-minded approaches, there is usually a lack of proper understanding of how new technologies can be used for our betterment. “The overwhelming majority don’t [sic] really understand how tech works and hence what is reasonable and sensible to propose,” said Julian Huppert, the former Liberal Democrat member of Parliament for Cambridge in the U.K. However, the problem lies not only in the government’s lack of expertise; the private sector is partly to blame. The information technology industry is often reluctant to cooperate closely with the government. Aline Haynes, IT director at Sheffield City Council, says, “It is our fault for not making what we do more engaging. Not tech for tech’s sake.”
There are several ways to improve this cooperation in different countries. For example, in the United Kingdom some have considered introducing a “technology impact assessment” in government policy as a means to use technology more effectively in the public arena and enhance cooperation with the private sector. A technology impact assessment can be incorporated into standard impact assessment processes conducted by relevant ministries. It should be grounded in cost-benefit analysis and multidisciplinary risk assessment, and should focus on how new technologies are expected to affect each sector of the country’s economy. Such evaluations, ideally conducted ex ante and ex post, will be vital to ensure that legislation keeps pace with technological change. The need for this assessment is crucial, especially in the domain of data protection legislation and the Internet of Things. A tremendous number of advances in technology lead to new models for creating and sharing content, such as the emergence of connected devices, the secondhand digital goods market, digital inheritance, and 3D printing, which largely undermine existing legal frameworks surrounding intellectual property and data collection.
As a part of a comprehensive strategy of technology impact assessment, the government should conduct annual reviews to ensure that legislation surrounding different branches of the economy keep abreast of technological change. The government should consider establishing a group of tech analysts, partially composed of people working for leading tech companies, in order to improve cooperation with private sector, collect necessary data, and understand current trends.
Political leaders are constantly criticized and assessed by commentators on their responsiveness to new technologies. However, technology does not only relate to tackling the world’s most pressing challenges—it is also at stake in matters like winning elections, sustaining popularity, and enhancing day-to-day communication with voters.
In many countries across the world, but especially in Western countries, political parties adopt digital strategies to foster better cooperation with citizens. Some notable examples include a growing popularity of crowdfunding campaigns. Compared to a standard campaign, crowdfunding creatively uses technology to enable citizens to get involved politically and, as a result, forces the party to be as transparent as possible. Another example is online platforms that provide opportunities for citizens to actively participate in decision-making process, or at least consult on particular policies. A number of commentators claim that these digital strategies favor anti-establishment, inclusive, and citizen-driven movements, and therefore technology can enable these movements to transform into political parties. Spain’s Podemos and its digital strategy are often cited as an example. However, the electoral process is only a part of politics, which on the whole is increasingly driven by technologies.
Perhaps the most significant challenge is to sustain the popularity of a ruling government in the digital age. There is no doubt that technology adds another dimension to the classical dilemma faced by politicians: how to propose and implement effective policies while maintaining public support. Today we ask during elections: How aware of new perspectives and goals are our leaders? How responsive they are? How well do they understand new sources of information and knowledge? And ultimately, in the era of rockets, drones, and robotics, what inspirational vision might they bring? What human potential might they unlock?
Henry Kissinger was right when he pointed out that “the mindset for walking lonely political paths may not be self-evident to those who seek confirmation by hundreds, sometimes thousands of friends on Facebook.” In this age of breakthrough technologies, politicians and leaders do not require only the authoritative support of policies by experts. Support very often is voiced by prominent online influencers with little or no direct link to politics—celebrities, commentators, corporations. Politicians now require more comprehensive support. Leaders of tomorrow will emerge as people who are deeply aware of new challenges and have a sense of mission to bring together a coalition of power, skill, and capability to tackle those challenges innovatively. The crucial characteristic of the new generation of leaders will be openness to advice from IT geeks who understand different sides of the tech world and may help them create collaborative environments across various specializations.
In today’s world, being a politician is more than just “taking a stand” and “being passionate.” Politicians need to be pop stars, too. The age of technology has presented leaders and political groups with the challenge of balancing legitimacy through public opinion, while also taking responsibility for particular policies and tough decisions. With political commentary being disseminated to the masses so rapidly, understanding the role of technology and its importance for governance has never been so complex.
Technology may be seen as a driver for both power and legitimacy. The fourth industrial revolution, which is happening right now, is also a revolution of values. What we need today are innovative leaders who not only understand the complexities of technology, but who also innovatively use this technology to promote a global culture of genuine human encounter that meets the legitimate needs of all peoples.
Artur Kluz, lawyer, foreign policy advisor and venture capital investor. He is a General Partner of Kluz Ventures, the investment firm focused on breakthrough technologies and global growth strategies.
Mikolaj Firlej, Master of Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University.
[Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]