Written evidence from Kathryn Parsons (TFP0031)
ABOUT KATHRYN PARSONS
Kathryn Parsons is Founder and CEO of Decoded, a technology education company founded with a mission to demystify the digital world.
Decoded’s work teaching code, data and cyber skills has reached over a million professionals worldwide. Today Decoded is the go-to for boards, policy makers and leaders across the world looking to rapidly transform the digital capability, culture and skills of their businesses.
Kathryn served as a non executive on the board of The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy from 2017-2021.
1. What technologies are shifting power? What is the FCDO’s understanding of new technologies and their effect on the UK’s influence?
Data driven technologies are radically shifting the shape of global economic and political power. Countries with the most digitally literate leaders, most data skilled workforce and greatest access to data sets will be at a significant advantage.
The technologies shaping our future span AI, Nanotechnology, Blockchain, Autonomous Vehicles, Cryptocurrencies, Cyber Warfare, Cloud Computing, Quantum Computing and beyond.
The next ten years will see the most dramatic transformation of traditional industries since the industrial revolution as organisations rapidly adapt to shifts in consumer behaviour and advancements in technology.
In order to prepare for this future the FCDO will need to be able to credibly engage with large technology businesses as well as fast-growing tech innovators. It is critical that the FCDO’s leadership can evidence a high level of expertise and literacy across all the key data technologies.
The FCDO needs to demonstrate an ability to work using modern tools and processes, for example, applying advanced analytics skills and predictive technologies to making decisions at every layer of the organisation.
Many governments are grappling with how to upgrade the digital literacy, skills and culture of their departments. The UK. has the potential to be thought leading in collaborating globally to address these challenges.
2. How can the FCDO engage with private technology companies to influence and promote the responsible development and use of data and new technologies?
Data Ethics is becoming an increasingly important concern for consumers. The UK Government needs to increase investment into centres of global thought leadership such as Oxford's AI Ethics Centre. In addition, the FCDO needs to encourage and support programmes and policies which empower, inform and protect consumers.
3. 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?
This is a big question and goes right to the heart of our beliefs about free speech vs censorship. Currently there are no internationally accepted norms for use of social media. Trends like live-streaming e-commerce in China and the popularity of new products like Telegram & Clubhouse show how norms are changing all the time.
The FCDO has an opportunity to develop a framework for what social media norms might look like. Only then, in solidarity with other nations, can the FCDO approach the big social media companies such as ByteDance, Instagram and YouTube to encourage them to support these standards globally.
It goes without saying that social media data is incredibly important from a national security and intelligence point of view and this needs to be considered when proposing any global social media guidelines.
4. 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?
There is no guarantee that the UKs interests will be aligned with those of other countries. Particularly where there is state interest in privately held technology companies. The UK mustn’t be afraid to show a firm regulatory hand in particular where the data security of its citizens is concerned.
5. 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?
You can’t enforce sanctions on cryptocurrencies in their current form. Cryptocurrencies are poised to disrupt the entire traditional financial system, which is why so many people are excited by them. In theory blockchain is supposed to create transparency. However, anonymity is a killer feature of the current generation of cryptocurrencies. This is why its earliest adopters were frequently involved in illegal activities. However, crypto has now gained popularity amongst mainstream investors and speculators.
It is most important that the FCDO and UK government can demonstrate high levels of understanding of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. In particular in discussion with other nations, such as China, about the introduction of their own cryptocurrencies.
7. 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?
Daily vigilance and cyber awareness is needed across government, and business. The UK can build a reputation for being the most cyber literate and skilled economy in the world. One of the ways to do this would be to introduce mandatory cyber training for boards and cyber hygiene standards for businesses. Moreover, the government must lead by example, exhibiting the highest standards in cyber awareness and expertise.