The G20 Gathers: A Digital Consensus Amid Wider Divisions
Although much of the focus ahead of India’s G20 summit later this week is on disagreements among members, the group has already forged consensus on at least one important issue. G20 digital economy ministers agreed last month to a framework on the development and use of “digital public infrastructure” (DPI), the interoperable digital building blocks, such as payments and identification systems, that facilitate digital services and other online economic activity.
The agreement is a signature initiative of India’s G20 presidency that brings to center stage the India Stack, an open and interoperable digital infrastructure on which anyone can build new software. The agreement also highlights the role that digital technologies can play in accelerating sustainable development. With carefully caveated language, digital economy ministers identified three components to DPI—technology, governance, and community—and a series of suggested principles for DPI development and use, including inclusivity, interoperability, and scalability. Ministers also emphasized that DPI use and development should be secure, privacy-protecting, transparently governed, and respect human rights. Putting all of these principles into practice will be a challenge, as India’s own experience, which includes data breaches and concerns about entrenching inequality, illustrates.
In addition to the DPI framework, G20 ministers also agreed to new principles to help businesses prepare for and respond to cyber threats, and to a roadmap to make it easier to measure digital skills across countries by, for example, using the same terminology and metrics. However, given deep divides among G20 members, it is unlikely that the group will make new commitments to more divisive technology topics, such as the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI), despite the growing sense among their citizens that it will profoundly change their lives. G20 members could use the summit to reaffirm the group’s 2019 principles on trustworthy AI, but divergent approaches among members mean that countries will focus on writing the rules of AI in other international forums. G7 members, for example, have opted to work through their own Hiroshima AI process this year to develop shared approaches to AI governance and transparency. AI will nevertheless play an important introductory role at the G20 confab: An AI -generated avatar will welcome world leaders as part of an exhibition on Indian democracy.
The next move will be Brazil’s. The country will take the baton from India and host the 2024 G20 summit, at which work on connectivity, digital government, AI, and information integrity and trust will be agenda priorities.