By: Jonathan Tanner
“One of the most interesting aspects of the public policy conversations about emerging technology is the simultaneous nature of many challenges countries around the world are facing.
The use of facial recognition on the streets of London which hit the headlines recently is being pursued with a lack of regulatory oversight or public consent that would produce knowing sympathy from citizens in Nairobi and Harare.
The role of disinformation in influencing elections has been under the spotlight during almost every poll in recent years. From WhatsApp in India and Brazil to Facebook in Kenya and the US and Twitter in Nigeria and the UK.
This simultaneity, along with the speed of innovation, presents an opportunity to leave behind the more outdated ideological furniture of the development sector whilst preserving what’s best about modern international cooperation.
For some, ‘development’ is synonymous with efforts to end global poverty via economic and social means. For others, it carries the baggage of asymmetrical power relationships and self-interest disguised as selflessness. Neither view is invalid and nor are they mutually exclusive, but most would agree the world is moving on.
Of course, different countries face different contexts, but many digital dilemmas cut across income-derived country categories or labels like ‘low-income’ and ‘developing’.
This is why we should consider avoiding the temptation to approach digital as a ‘development’ problem (or opportunity), even if many of the same actors have something to contribute. Given the scale of transformation ahead and the absence of evidence about what works, we should expect countries to undertake very different digital journeys.
Across the world, societies are faced with a shared set of difficult policy dilemmas for which there are no proven answers. In the years ahead, we can confidently predict disruption to job markets from further automation, social tension over civil liberties infringements, changing trade patterns as efforts to address climate change influence demand for natural resources and continued disruption of our information ecosystem.
It is refreshing to recognise that no one country or group of countries currently knows better than any other when it comes to how we create successful digital societies. Unlike the provision of basic public utilities, services and infrastructure, richer nations can’t adopt an often unintentional ‘been there, done that’ superiority when discussing effective regulatory frameworks for AI or what an ethical digital identity system looks like.”
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