Tech opens up new roads and governance has to catch up
TL: DR: In the digital transformation age, people are increasingly concerned not so much about technology, but about its governance and regulation. Technology must be used in a way that creates social value for every member of society. As evidenced by the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica saga, our policies and regulations have not yet caught up with technological changes.
By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. “This will result in a long list of issues that governments need to address, such as housing and healthcare needs, sustainability and the possibility of crime rates going up as people get more clustered within a space,” said Mr Gerald Wang, Head of Public Sector, IDC Government Insights APAC.
“With globalisation allowing people to move around the world quickly and conveniently, how do you ensure that your city’s ecosystem is good enough to attract foreign investors, as well as retain and grow the next generation of talents?”
Mr Wang posed this question to participants at the ‘Digital Government for Transformation Towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies—the Singapore Experience’ executive development course held from 2-6 April 2018.
The course, jointly organised by the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), the United Nations Project Office on Governance (UNPOG) under the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), and the United Nations Development Programme’s Global Centre on Public Service Excellence (GCPSE), was attended by senior government officials from countries in Asia, the Pacific and East Africa.
Breaking down silos—with care
Even though we are in the digital transformation age, what people are most concerned about is not the technology per se, but the governance of it. “For the public, it is about who owns, manages, controls and has access to certain technologies or information.
For the government, it’s about who reports to whom, security and privacy issues, and how to break down government silos,” said Mr Wang, adding that silos exist even in a country as small as Singapore.
As more and more information get digitalised, governments around the world have been trying to collaborate across agencies and create digital profiles of every person.
The aim is to be able to proactively push out government services relevant to each and every citizen at every point in time, and thus offer ‘from-birth-to-death’ digital services.
This presents its own unique set of challenges in terms of information management on the government’s part. “Some people don’t wish to share certain data with agencies. One example would be health information.
For people with heart problems and certain diseases, having that kind of information in digital form shared across agencies might potentially affect their employability,” explained Mr Wang. It is therefore necessary to think about the impacts and implications of the breaking down of these silos.
From the digital technologies to social value
In the past, computers executed processes based on a fixed set of rules. But now, with artificial intelligence, computers are looking at raw data and making decisions on their own.
“Basically, human beings are creating a computer that emulates the human being. You have probably watched a lot of science fiction movies that touch on this,” said Mr Walter Lee, Evangelist and Government Relations Director, Global Safety Division, NEC Corporation, who also spoke at the session.
Mr Lee elaborated on his point using the example of autonomous vehicles. “We are now giving computers sensors and vision, and getting machines to visualise and analyse data.
What’s even scarier is that these computers are now prescribing actions to other computers to act in the real world—which is how self-driving cars work.” If the algorithms are not done right, and a vehicle hits someone, who takes responsibility when it is the computer making the decision and not the human?
“The point is, when these technologies are deployed in society, there are very real consequences and implications that extend beyond the technology itself. At the end of the day, it is not about just about technological advancements,” Mr Lee emphasised, concurring with Mr Wang. “It is about social value creation for everyone in the ecosystem. That is what is critical.”
New roads to walk
Taking the audience through the evolution of the internet, Mr Lee said that while Web 1.0 was about being able to access a rich resource of information, something new appeared on the scene in 2004: Facebook. The internet was then no longer about information, but interactions.
But as we enter the era of Web 3.0, it is now the computers that are doing the interacting. “With the Internet of Things, it is no longer about humans interacting linearly.
We are limited by time and space, but computers are not. Massive amounts of insights are being created, which has a tremendous impact on everything, including our stock exchange, economy, work and labour,” Mr Lee noted.
Concluding his keynote, Mr Lee brought up the recent Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. “Technological advancements always break existing rules and boundaries, creating new roads.
But for the innovations to be effective, we have to make sure there are policies and procedures in place to optimise the benefits. The data privacy and management issues that we are seeing right now are due to policies not having caught up with the new roads that technology providers are creating,” Mr Lee said.