Inclusive Tech Leadership
This article is part of our Tech for Inclusion Blog Series identifying goals and strategies for deploying tech for social and political inclusion in Europe and the United States.
If political inclusion stands as a basic democratic right securing stable and lawful societies, it is first and foremost experienced in our digital public sphere, and it is significantly nurtured by our tech and innovation ecosystems as tools and enablers. The relentless world-wide threats that we are experiencing in environmental, security, and health matters, prompt to a contribution of tech and innovation outcomes towards more resilient and inclusive societies. Tech and innovation ecosystems cannot disregard issues of unequal access to technologies and the digital transformation, unequal social and cultural representation and inclusion in the digital public sphere and the media, as well as issues of sustainability. Echoing the current tendencies of “tech for good” and “responsible innovation,” inclusion is both about ensuring access and fostering values tackling the digital divides and inequalities for a smooth digital transition, as well as the commitment to anchor future technological developments in sustainable pathways contributing to societal challenges.
To make the move beyond hashtag words and wishful thinking, specific tools and orientations have to be considered on the side of tech tools fostering enabling environments, and also, inversely, on ways to create smart incentives to drive and empower tech and innovation actors from all sectors and scale towards participatory approaches and responsible innovation. In light of the current disaffection with democratic processes, as well as systemic societal challenges and the aggregation of global risks, building sustainable and responsible pathways have become a priority, urging for a prioritization of responsible global cooperation over international leadership competitiveness.
International Tech Cooperation
Considering the rapid pace at which emerging technologies and innovations keep transforming all sectors of human activity, societal impacts can no longer be considered as a viewpoint option, but rather as a vital anticipation of future outcomes. Inclusive tech requires moving from an exclusive to an inclusive growth strategy, yielding to democratic and participatory approaches to innovation and more responsible innovation ecosystems. Further to regulations, the promotion of initiatives conducive to democratic values can act as a shortcut towards more inclusive and responsible innovation ecosystems. How can new technologies be leveraged so as to promote a tech designed for inclusion? Confronted to the tidal wave of international competition in tech, ethical considerations seem to be outshined. Yet, ethical values are setting the rules of global partnerships and cooperation and the boundaries of inclusive strategies. Inclusion stops where ideological divides are perceived, thereby prompting to consider “engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce”i as a risky approach, this being notably illustrated in the tense U.S./China relationship.
At global scale, inclusion in tech points to multilateral trade systems rather than exclusive bilateral relationships threatened by acute strategic rivalry. As a truce in the ongoing trade war, the recent shift from multilateral approaches to bilateral ones (“Phase One” trade deal, January 2020) between the U.S. and China is still uncertain in terms of long-term lasting stability. If long-term strategies of international cooperation are undermined by profound ideological dissensus and ideological conflicting positions in terms of fundamental human rights and ethical principles, contextual vulnerabilities as in during the coronavirus tend to sidestep such barriers, as with the case of the massive exportation of Chinese medical supplies to Europe that has been termed “masks diplomacy,” pointing to the revalorization of China as a responsible global leader. Tech and innovation diplomacy is no exception to this, as the boundaries for cooperation and inclusion at international scale are highly ethically sensitive.
Tech for Inclusion at Transatlantic Scale
How can new pathways for cooperation at transatlantic scale be anchored in inclusive growth? Considering that tech and innovation ecosystems are shaped under varying levels of connection to ethico-political norms, what invariable values should be considered by tech and innovation actors and how? Can inclusive tech—at any level of meaning—be effectively considered without the inevitable connection to wider regulatory, (geo)political, and economic contexts that shape the dividing line of inclusive strategies? Cooperation strategies through tech ecosystems are conducive to opening avenues for cooperation that could act as air bridges to exert positive influence, reversing obstacles and democratic threats, thus turning the risks into opportunities for a pollination of democratic values.
How can the EU and U.S. ecosystems of innovation defeat their current head-on competition and asymmetrical relationship through collaborative pathways anchored in sustainable and inclusive growth and develop a joint equal leadership aligned on values? How can such a fruitful transatlantic relationship be fostered while respecting the ambition for leadership and strategic sovereignty on both sides? Can ruthless competition of tech ecosystems and media governance issues be transcended into a common battle for values and equal opportunities where an ethical stance is not only claimed predominantly on one side (the EU)? Inclusion can be achieved through cooperation and multilateralism, participation and access of citizens and stakeholders to tech and innovation developments, to equal and diverse access to educational and cultural contents, and to multilateralism and respect of democratic pluralism—provided the normative grounds that foster inclusive tech are built on a sound legal and political infrastructure.
i Following NSS’s recommendation to rethink the idea that policies of engagement with partners as China would turn them into “benign actors and trustworthy partners”: US Department of State, 2020 (20 May). United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.