My name is Tarun Wadhwa and I study how exponentially advancing technologies are transforming industries, societies, and governments around the world. As a researcher, entrepreneur, strategist, teacher, writer – and a Nonresident Fellow with the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center – I work with leaders across the public and private sector to understand how to respond and adapt to these changes. The speed, scale, and sophistication of systems, data collection, and analysis tools poses an incredible challenge and opportunity. As a result, governments will have find ways to sustain trust, rebuild security, and regulate technology in an equitable manner that still captures the upside of their disruptive potential.
In order to assist democratic governments in this difficult process, the Atlantic Council established the Commission on the Geopolitical Impacts of New Technologies and Data and a report on May 26, 2021 with our findings and recommendations. Our work examines how the coming “GeoTech Decade” will exacerbate inequalities and overturn geopolitical realities, while creating new occasions for leaders to work together to accomplish big things. We look at how the United States and other like-minded nations and institutions like the UK and the FDCO can maintain science and technology leadership, ensure the trustworthiness and resiliency of physical and IT supply chains and infrastructures, and improve global health and wellness. Our recommendations center on harnessing the “ingenuity of people, diversity of talent, strength of democratic values, innovation of companies, and the reach of global partnerships.”
Thank you for the invitation to submit evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tech and the future of UK foreign policy.
What technologies are shifting power? What is the FCDO’s understanding of new technologies and their effect on the UK’s influence?
There are six key areas that we identify in our report as critical technologies for the next decade:
Each of these technologies represents a significant series of advancements that will need to be examined closely. They will have important commercial applications and bring major social challenges. Additionally, the convergence of two or more of these technologies introduces an additional layer of complexity and unpredictability that will have to be managed.
How can the FCDO engage with private technology companies to influence and promote the responsible development and use of data and new technologies?
The nature of advancing technologies is such that no single company, institution, or government alone can determine or stop the course of development. Therefore it is important for individual actors in the ecosystem to enrich the discourse and enhance our collective understanding of the costs and benefits by contributing their unique perspective on what each new innovation brings. FCDO can help on a lot on this front. FCDO can help private industry understand the geopolitical landscape of implementing different systems and technologies by sharing knowledge and guidance, help to galvanize entrepreneurs and set priorities for global aid and economic advancement, and use the targeted funding and incentives in order to promote sustainable and equitable distribution where needed.
How can the FCDO engage with private companies to encourage internationally accepted norms for the use of social media as well as to maximise the benefits for diplomacy presented by social media?
Given the complex nature of how social media companies operate on a global scale, it would be more productive for FCDO to identify the specific issues and harms caused by social media platforms and seek to address those in the context of UK law rather than unilaterally pass an overarching legal framework – such as what constitutes hate speech, which types of information should be protected, what rights a user has to targeted advertising, and how an individual’s rights can be protected in the face of deepfakes and sophisticated forgery, among other issues.
How can the FCDO use its alliances to shape the development of, and promote compliance with, international rules and regulations relating to new and emerging technologies? Is the UK taking sufficient advantage of the G7 Presidency to achieve this?
In order to meet the rise of exponential technologies, the FCDO and its allies must use this is as a catalyst to increase the digital literacy of their populations, address issues of distribution and fairness, and prioritize the study of ethics. The G7 Presidency offers an important position with which to move these areas forward, but action is needed immediately. There are critical areas of rules and regulations that are in need of attention right now which FDCO can make a meaningful contribution towards. This includes the development of more sophisticated rules around data sharing, revamping supply chains around medical components and sensitive technologies, bringing clarity to treaties around space, developing rapid response networks for health emergencies, building a framework for the future of work which offers equitable access to opportunity, and improving agriculture, ocean exploration, and climate change activities in civilian, military, and international arenas.
Should the Government’s approach to meeting the challenges of technology nationalism and digital fragmentation be based on self-sufficiency, joining with allies or like-minded nations or supporting a coherent global framework?
We believe that when like-minded nations collaborate in areas of science and technology, the talent resources are able to produce greater advantages than if were they to go alone. Additionally, the nature of today’s machine learning approaches requires enormous datasets in order to function and improve, such that it may not be feasible for one country to seek to fragment themselves off – while China has found some success with this sort of restrictive approach, their large population makes this a uniquely viable possibility for that nation. A coherent global framework will be the best outcome for prosperity, peace, and economic development.
What opportunities and challenges do cryptocurrency and distributed ledger technologies such as blockchain present for the way the FCDO does diplomacy (for example, enforcing sanctions), and how can the FCDO harness these technologies as new tools of influence or to promote compliance and transparency in international agreements?
The foundational technologies of cryptocurrency have uses far beyond just transferring value. Privacy-preserving technologies, including secure multiparty computation, homomorphic encryption, trusted execution environments, differential privacy, and zero-knowledge proofs, among other computational advances and methods, show incredible promise for making compliance and transparency in general more verifiable and making the financial system more stable. The development of distributed ledger systems are pioneering the use of many of these components, as well as leading to the creation of standards, institutions, and oversight mechanisms which can be quite useful throughout industry and government.
How can the FCDO help build resilience in civil society, in Government, business and foreign relations against the threats posed by abuses of new technologies by state and non-state actors? Can the FCDO support trust-building networks?
The FCDO must advance its approach to regulating technologies and improving their digital defenses for the modern age in order to increase resiliency. In our report we highlight how organizations like FCDO can increase trust by examining how technologies must objectively meet “the public’s needs for privacy, security, transparency, and accountability” by using data protection standards, improving approaches to machine learning, examining outcome-based vs prescriptive methods, adopting automated compliance testing, focusing on the responsible use of technology, measuring performance against standards, and encouraging the development of privacy-preserving technologies in as many domains as possible.
What would the implications be of the dollar losing its dominant position for international transactions? Will digital currencies force a change in the balance of power?
As money moves from a paper-based system expressed digitally, to one where money is digitally-native, we can expect some significant changes to how our financial systems operate. It is expected that many nations, including the United States, seek to create a nation-level digital currency in order to achieve faster, more secure, and more flexible payments and reputation. There will be a significant advantage for whichever nation is able to build a forward-thinking, sophisticated, robust system for the future of banking and promote its widespread usage.