Capacity building in the age of convergence

13 Nov 2020 09:00h - 10:30h

Event report

Ms Rachel Azafrani (Security Strategist, Microsoft Digital Diplomacy) planned the session around the capacity building challenges that new technologies such as AI, cloud, and 5G are bringing. Participants in the session discussed how to equip stakeholders to solve these challenges.

Capacity building and main issues

Dr Andrea Calderaro (Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor, Cardiff University) reminded us that technology becomes more sophisticated much quicker than our capacity to understand its consequences for society. We struggle to identify a legal and policy framework—that is, a challenge lies in the necessity to co-ordinate policy response and define an equitable cyber governance structure, and even simply to co-ordinate those who can offer an answer. As well, since current capacity is insufficient, it is actually impossible to utilise multistakeholderism to address the challenges; the expertise is simply not integrated. Communities are fragmented and countries struggle to have a co-ordinated response.

Mr Prateek Sibal (AI and Public Policy Consultant, UNESCO) claimed that the very nature of the governance of technology is something we need to understand, in addition to the social consequences the technologies have, whether positive or negative. It is quite demanding to evaluate all the effects of an innovation when the context is unknown or not understood sufficiently. Therefore, the process of policy making becomes complex. The lack of awareness is especially present in developing countries.

Ms Verena Weber (Head of the Communication Infrastructures and Services Policy Unit, OECD) stressed that when we think of converging technologies, we think of one main foundation, connectivity. If we do not connect countries well, technologies cannot be used. She called for a robust framework to expand connectivity and a holistic whole-of-government approach, in addition to more co-ordination between different entities in government and a truly multistakeholder approach. At the same time, the international level needs to be taken into account: the role of international co-operation should not be underestimated.

More prioritisation is needed according to Mr Gbenga Sesan (The Paradigm Initiative). For some countries, it is difficult to talk about such a complex issue as AI when policy makers are still establishing the basics, such as access to electricity. This is particularly the case when some people deliberately decide not to prioritise technology as it is not ideal for their political position. Without political will, policy will always play catch-up to innovation. He also pointed out that we witness considerable policy incoherence when different elements of governments focus on different things. For example, everyone wants to own the turf on AI.

What is at stake?

According to Calderaro, transnational challenges mean that each country experiences different challenges. We really need to be aware that it is difficult and no single challenge occurs in all contexts. It is important for each country to develop its unique cyber capacity. Sibal confirmed that it is context-dependent and depends on political will and the drivers of the political will. Economic growth, clearly, is one of the biggest drivers that pushes governments to move. Weber mentioned that OECD member countries are certainly at different stages of development. At her organisation, they consider the economic effects of development, since not having the capacity to deal with technology can mean fewer economic opportunities and lower productivity, something not irrelevant in the context of the pandemic. Sesan claimed trust is crucial. Trust is supposed to be at the centre of the whole digital experience because the entire digital ecosystem is built on trust. If users do not trust companies with their data, they will be reluctant to use the services provided by those companies. He also suggested that we have too many top-down approaches to policy making in which users are not involved.

The role of international institutions

For Calderaro, the main challenge for developing efficient capacity development is the lack of local interlocutors, which is the result of the lack of national capacity. Sibal thinks that one of the good things about international organisations is that they can help set standards. For example, UNESCO is working on ethical principles on AI and standards can be quite inclusive and connect perspectives of different stakeholders, leading to greater legitimacy of standards produced. Once standards are set, civil society can monitor and vouch for some changes (thus including the multistakeholder element). Weber encouraged the use of international institutions to gather knowledge from different parts of the world and to identify best practices to help set standards, and ultimately to assist with implementation of principles. Showing of best practices as the benefit of international organisations was likewise stressed by Sesan. On the other hand, room must must always be left for local context; some discussions in global policy capitals easily miss some layers. If something is called international, it needs to be international in nature, he mentioned.