The UK Government hosted the inaugural Future Tech Forum on 29-30 November 2021 to tackle two crucial questions: how will technology, and its impact on our society, change over the next five to ten years, and how can we collectively leverage these future technologies to tackle global challenges?
Technology will continue to transform our lives as it has done over the last 20 years. But without the right governance, this transformation can also bring challenges as we have seen with the rise in online harms. In order to start a global discussion on how public policy can get ahead of the next generation of technology, the Future Tech Forum convened representatives from over 20 like-minded democratic countries, alongside some of the world’s foremost innovators and leaders across the digital ecosystem.
Discussions over the two days reaffirmed that the potential gains from future technologies will be huge. To realise these benefits we need to work together through a collaborative and diverse multi-stakeholder dialogue. Governments must work together with the private sector, academia, and wider society to identify and address emerging public policy challenges which might inhibit the development or deployment of tech for societal benefit. This must be a shared endeavour founded on the core principles of innovation, trust and inclusion, with the democratic values of freedom, open markets, pluralism and the protection of human rights sitting at the heart of future global technology governance. There is a global imperative to act now, by defending and promoting these values.
1. Harnessing technology to tackle global challenges
Technology can help us shape a better tomorrow and address the most challenging crises of our time, from climate change to global health. Attendees discussed a range of ways in which we make this a reality and set out key areas to explore further.
Building on the commitments at COP26, discussions at the Forum reaffirmed that technological solutions can accelerate our journey to Net Zero. Delegates acknowledged that digitally-driven solutions will play a central role both in driving down emissions and in accelerating the growth of climate tech. To support this, attendees discussed the need for more unified climate-focused tech standards, investment incentives for global tech commons, and effective regulatory mechanisms which encourage tech-adoption in the wider economy to drive better climate outcomes.
The pandemic has laid bare the health challenges faced by the global community. But, the response to COVID-19 has shown how we can use digital technologies to accelerate better health outcomes. The Forum explored how to use data and the technologies driven by it such as AI, for good. It explored how to build public trust in partnerships that bring together innovative data infrastructure and robust data governance. And if done well, how this could accelerate drug discovery and development, increase on-line access to healthcare including in the world’s most needy communities, and improve diagnostics and patient outcomes.
The Forum also discussed the need to invest in the building blocks of tech if we are to realise the wealth of opportunities that a well functioning and equitable digital ecosystem is capable of delivering. As a result, we should redouble our efforts to reframe access to data as a public good and this must be underpinned by robust protections for individual rights, while supported by investment in systems which facilitate data free flow with trust. The Forum emphasised the imperative for a free, open, accessible internet built on a competitive, interoperable and secure infrastructure. And discussed a range of principles needed to safeguard its beneficial use in the future, including building public trust through more effective action to counter harmful activity online and the principle that illegal behaviour offline should be illegal online.
2. The way forward
The Forum highlighted the imperative for continued dialogue, working together across boundaries to shape the future technology ecosystem. Attendees welcomed the Future Tech Forum as the start of this process and expressed a will to strengthen collaboration between like-minded partners. Attendees committed to continuing an open and inclusive dialogue, bringing-in democratic partners from across the globe, to ensure that future technologies are inclusive, safe, and competitive for all.
The Forum welcomed the open and frank exchanges between government, industry, academia and civil society, and recognised that all have an invaluable role to play in ensuring that future technologies are informed by our open society values, serve the public interest, and have transparency and accountability built in from the outset.
The UK looked forward to the discussions from the Forum contributing to wider international dialogues including the forthcoming Summit for Democracy and Internet Governance Forum, calling on allies and partners to continue this solution-driven discourse. This included working through multilateral fora such as the OECD, WTO, the UN and global standards development bodies, and continuing to engage underrepresented voices across the multi-stakeholder alliance.
In order to help progress this thinking the UK will:
- Publish the Future Tech Forum Chair’s Report, capturing the themes discussed and identifying areas where future research and collaboration are required
- Seek to identify areas where like-minded governments should strengthen collaboration, including in technologies which are yet to mature, with a view to better understanding their impact on our societies and where we should work together to ensure our governance frameworks are suited to their development and use.
- Explore with partners how to develop this important discussion both through existing international fora and through future meetings of a similar nature so that an enduring dialogue is established to further the objectives of the Forum for future years