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World Dignitaries Face Off at Web Summit, the Technology Battlefield


Many used to shrug off the development of seemingly futuristic Artificial Intelligence (AI). However, advancing by leaps and bounds in recent years, AI is now revolutionizing the job market, governmental operations, and the society as a whole. This makes everyone anxiously trying to keep pace. In 2019, the issue was widely discussed in the European Conference on the Impact of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (ECIAIR) held in October in Oxford, as well as the renowned technology conference Web Summit kicked off in November in Lisbon. To tap into the latest insights of international researchers, startups, and dignitaries, Science & Technology Policy Research and Information Center (STPI) took the opportunity to attend both ECIAIR and Web Summit.


One of the highlights from Web Summit was the conversation between former United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister Tony Blair and the United States (U.S.) Representative Ro Khanna from Silicon Valley. Centering on the topic of “None Left Behind: Making Tech Work for the Many”, the critical question in discuss was whether governments could resolve the problem of relative deprivation that comes with technological development and globalization. In response, Blair said that politicians generally do not keep track of technological development. He joked about how his son told him not to kick around technology publicly as there was a handful of evidence suggesting that he knew nothing about it. In addition, history had demonstrated how it took decades for politicians in the 19th century to acknowledge the impact of technological development in the case of First Industrial Revolution. Therefore, it would be too much to ask from the government to magic away the problem of feeling left behind among those who were facing it. Instead, Blair called for politicians and entrepreneurs spearheaded by e-commerce giants – those policymakers and change-makers – to communicate and learn from each other so that they could collectively leverage technology to alleviate its negative impacts.   

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in conversation with the U.S. Representative Ro Khanna from Silicon Valley at Web Summit.


Equally enlightening was the talk between former Greece Prime Minister George Papandreou and German State Minister of Digitalization Dorothee Bär on “Digital Values: The European Approach to Promote Prosperity”. The concept of democracy was molded in the discussions of the ancient Greeks. Papandreou had recapped some of the ancient Greek wisdoms at Web Summit to enrich the talk. He suggested a kind of future possibility in view of the advancement of information and communication technology – altering the conventional democratic political system, particularly the separation of powers that branches into the legislative, executive, and judiciary arms of a government. In this case, a concrete example would be to formally recognize a digital jury as the fourth power. Papandreou elaborated on the idea’s pragmatism from several aspects: (1) It could be executed by selecting the jurors of a digital jury from our citizens through an online lot-drawing procedure. They would then participate in reviewing our national policies. (2) Such a negotiation procedure could be realized through the application of technology, which would distinguish it from the conventional democratic procedure. (3) Looking back, democracy was born in the brainstorming conversations among the ancient Greeks, where all citizens of a Greek polis would participate given the polis’ small-sized population. As most countries have significantly larger populations today, a fully-participating discussion involving all citizens could be made possible via digitalization.

Former Greece Prime Minister George Papandreou in conversation with German State Minister of Digitalization Dorothee Bär at Web Summit.