The world is moving towards an interesting position, where multiple regions share the same vision for leadership in technology. A challenge and an opportunity that can only really be resolved through a common approach: how do we form tech policies at a global level?
The crisis of two divides, science is the one and policymakers the other, has been hindering the world for centuries. The Two Cultures is an influential essay written in 1959 by CP Snow; the British scientist identified the problem and wrote about its social implications.
According to Snow, the rift between sciences and humanities were hampering development and improvements. Unfortunately, not much has changed since he wrote his essay and at present, the world is facing a crisis that desperately needs the cooperation of technology and governance.
Today, society is built around socio-technical systems that are intertwined with policy and technology is creating the world we live in faster than the policymakers can create laws to limit behavior, something which software does more efficiently. In order to avert any disasters, it is imperative that technologists and policymakers combine forces.
AI is one example of a technology that has the potential to enhance human decision-making to make it more objective, faster and fair. However, it can also be hacked allowing criminals or other influential entities to create serious and destructive consequences. The question is: can these pitfalls be avoided and up to what point can any government regulate AI technology and the industry around it, especially since it is mostly market-driven? The answer lies in understanding the technology and the means which policymakers have available to them.
On the other hand, it is not just AI that needs to be tackled because issues concerning other technological advancements have also not been given much consideration. These include vulnerabilities to infrastructure from cyber attacks; social media platforms and how their content can cause divisiveness and how technology can alleviate any harm from these. Bioengineering and its advancements need regulations that will ensure the protection of the species on the planet, the technology of robotics is soon to be enjoyed by consumers too. Besides policies needed for all these, most governments have not even managed to provide regulations for the more basic and somewhat urgent issues that plague the planet – food and water safety, climate change and sustainable energy policies.
Public interest technologists are how technologists are referred to who are also prepared to get involved in public policy. There are such science professionals who work on both sides and they can be found in government departments, working in academia, the media, and NGOs. Unfortunately, getting more outstanding scientists to consider a career as public interest technologists seems to be a real challenge because there aren’t too many scrambling to get involved in public policy, even as the demand for them continues to grow.
Changes in education could be the solution to the problem. These need to be implemented from junior school and continued at the university level. Science and technology courses need to include mandatory courses in social science, ethics, etc. and joint degree programs can help ensure a more integrated approach. Involving people from a variety of backgrounds and capabilities and creating a public-tech interest where they seek to take the opportunity to work in the public service during sabbaticals and fellowships may nurture an interest. Finally, people who are part technologists and part policymakers should be encouraged to amalgamate the two to create public interest technologists that will be respected for their career choice.
Supply may currently be the biggest problem, but the most immediate issue is that the positions do not exist and those that do are underpaid and mostly unappreciated. Positions are needed in legislative bodies, government agencies, NGOs, and universities. The lack of technological projects is directly linked to the lack of understanding among policymakers about its importance.
Elected officials don’t need to be policy experts, but they need to understand that they need technologists on their teams in order to have a better perspective on policies.
Health policy is one of the successful areas where public policy and science have learned to cooperate averting some of the health crises that were a problem in the past.
“Politics in the twentieth century was dominated by a central question: how much of our collective life should be determined by the state, and what should be left to the market and civil society? For the generation now approaching political maturity, the debate will be different: to what extent should our lives be directed and controlled by powerful digital systems – and on what terms?” This question was posed by Jamie Susskind in his book, Future Politics and needs to be seriously addressed by policymakers right now as we have already entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution and changes will continue to come in leaps and bounds.