From 28 to 30 January, the first working group of the Digital Future Society Think Tank held their working meeting in Barcelona.
Working under the theme of public innovation, 7 experts from around the world explored the challenges and opportunities emerging technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence bring to government.
The challenge: Where emerging tech meets government
When it comes to emerging technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence, governments face major challenges in separating hype from reality and making sense of competing narratives around each technology and its impact. Caught between the hype drummed up by advocates and the suspicion raised by critics, policymakers must continuously grapple with the double bind of simultaneously using and regulating blockchain and AI.
The speed at which emerging technologies change society, and the dynamism of the markets they fuel, mean that neither the academic research communities, nor the policymakers or developers have the time or space clearly to articulate the conditions for a successful tech-driven society. The major challenge of this working group is to separate the signal from the noise when it comes to emerging technologies in a public policy context.
One one hand, policymakers must become savvier about emerging technologies in order to leverage the many opportunities each offers to improve public services. On the other, they must also know enough to regulate emerging tech effectively and sufficiently understand the implications of each in order to educate citizens about potential impacts.
Who was in the room?
The first public innovation working group was composed of experts from all over the world, working in either blockchain or AI (or a combination of both):
- Agnes Budzyn – Office of the CEO, ConsenSys (USA)
- Christina Patsioura – Senior Researcher, GSMA Intelligence (UK)
- Josep Monti – CEO and Founder, ATRY (Spain)
- Fabro Steibel – Executive Director, ITS Rio (Brazil)
- Rahilla Zafar – Managing Director, ConsenSys (UAE/USA)
- Ulises Cortes – Barcelona Supercomputing Center (Mexico/Spain)
The working group members were joined by members of the Digital Future Society core team as well as facilitators.
Day 1: Taking stock of how emerging tech is used in governments today
In order to better understand and contribute to the effective use of emerging tech in government, Day 1 was spent unpacking the “state of the art” of this issue and presenting them in practical and useful terms. Next, working group members introduced each other and their work in the context of the theme by sharing concrete examples, success stories and case studies, followed by a collective mapping exercise.
The second half of Day 1 was spent discussing more deeply how and why governments actually use blockchain and artificial intelligence technologies today, while conducting an in-depth exploration of the scope of these projects, the associated impacts, challenges, opportunities and risks. As participants continued to share best practices, regulatory initiatives and policy frameworks, the conversation was documented by a graphic illustrator.
Day 2: Scenario planning and imagining 2030
During Day 2, participants were challenged to start imagining the consequences and opportunities of future(s) in which government could be completely powered by blockchain and artificial intelligence technologies, or where the former is tightly regulated. Participants were invited to apply each scenario to the situation of four distinct personas who are typically excluded from such policy discussions. Again, the conversations, inputs, ideas and outcomes were captured by a graphic illustrator:
The research agenda of this working group and the Digital Future Society Think Tank as a whole is both substantial and urgent. The issues raised on emerging tech’s impact, ethics and best practices in the public sector are playing out now, not in some distant future. For this reason, building new communities and modes of inquiry and connecting them to the public interest is our top priority in shaping a better digital future society.
To learn more about the Digital Future Society Think Tank, download our position paper here.
Interested in learning more about this topic? Check out the following resources on the use of emerging technologies in government:
- AI Sector Deal – UK Government
- How governments around the world are using blockchain – Computerworld
- Guide to blockchain technology and its use in the public sector, OECD
- Primer on blockchain – how to assess for use in international development – USAID
- Emerging Citizen Technology – Blockchain Programs – US Government
- Estonia, The Digital Republic – The New Yorker
- Public attitudes towards use of algorithmic decision making and AI – The Pew Center