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The great transformation: using technology to make the world more humane

 

As a part of the initiative “Repensando el mañana” organized by the Fundación Telefónica, we have the opportunity to enjoy the conversation between Gerd Leonhard, a leading voice on the ethical and social implications of the use of technology, and Christoph Steck, Director Public Policy and Internet at Telefónica.

The current situation of the COVID-19 crisis has caused disruption in many sectors and a profound revision of our current political, social and economic systems. It is the right moment to reflect on what the world will look like after coronavirus, and what we have learned from this crisis.

 

Technology, our great ally

Many things have changed during this crisis and now we are walking towards an unknown new reality. We don’t know what the future will be like, but we are sure that technology and innovation have been essential to overcome the worst moments of the health crisis and they also will be very useful for the period of economic and social recovery.

 

“This pandemic is the first global health crisis we are fighting with smartphones, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence”, Christoph Steck

 

In Leonhard’s words, we have realized that technology can be used as a very good tool, but this crisis has also helped us to understand how necessary the human contact is. Connectivity has allowed the world to work remotely keeping the economies alive and staying in touch with our loved ones all along the confinement. It is become obvious that we like to meet. Nothing can change that. But after this crisis, will we meet the way we used to do? This is quite unlikely as there will not be a simple “Back to the past”. This crisis like all big crisis has changed the world and our behaviours already. 

 

 

“Technology is not what we seek but how we seek”, Gerd Leonhard

 

Undoubtedly, the importance of technology and telecom networks has been revealed as a key asset for the economy and well-being of people. But, in the next 5 to 10 next years the big question might be who we connect with, what do we talk about and what is the purpose of our discussion. New governance mechanisms need to be developed to keep AI; digital services and platforms accountable.

First and foremost, we need to reinvent ourselves in this transformation period. The approaches taken before the crisis on how to govern technology remain valid. Technology can be used for the benefit of mankind, but we need to be vigilant to ensure that the use of technology does not lead to harmful results. Despite the frenetic rhythm at which we are digitizing, we must not lose along the way the values that we want to inspire technology and digital society: Inclusiveness, transparency, fairness and non-discrimination.

 

“It is fair to say that our societies have digitalized more in the past weeks than in the past decade”, Christoph Steck

 

These ideas have been reflected already before the crisis in Telefonica’s Manifesto for a New Digital Deal to achieve a human-centric digitalization. How can we walk this fine line between the obvious need to use technology but making sure that it benefits people and that we leave no one behind? This question is now more urgent than ever before the background of an unfolding economic crisis and major digitalization of economies.

Leonhard’s vision is that our current model has not achieved to give an effective answer to that question and meet the needs and demands of society. He highlights that it seems that social protection measures and also public health systems are needed and have proven to be superior to more private-run systems. Solidarity is what has helped us through this crisis and the future will need to be a more sustainable and inclusive economic model.

 

Christoph Stec, Public Policy and Internet Director, Telefónica

 

“It is time to ask ourselves what kind of digital society do we want”, Gerd Leonhard

 

The next global crisis won't necessarily have to be a virus or an economic recession. It may have to do with an inappropriate and irresponsible use of technology.   It is time to ask ourselves what kind of digital society we want. The “benefit, growth and employment” approach has not worked well with digitalization. Any sort of political populism will not survive well this crisis if solidarity is guiding our response to it.

The future might be better than we think, provided that we collaborate to make it so. We have the opportunity to reinvent our economies and make them greener and more digital, while focusing on improving people´s life. Globalization is here to stay, but it will change. We have an opportunity to reboot our energy system and make it more sustainable Climate change is a good example of what we can do working together after COVID-19.

 

“The future might be better than we think”, Gerd Leonhard

 

Before thinking about the correct answers, we must look for the right questions. And so, what is what makes us humans? Thinking about the future, the right question is not what the future is going to be but rather: What is the right thing to do?  Why are we doing this? These are the big questions.

The uncertainty about the future is constant in this uncertain time of profound change.  It is normal to doubt and clearly, we have more questions than answers about what is going to happen and how the future will be. However, we should be aware that our world before the COVID-crisis has been far from perfect, so changes would have been necessary, and this crisis provides a change to accelerate the green and digital transformation of our societies and economies. For sure, to do so, we will need to tackle some challenges to achieve a sustainable and inclusive digitalization. This is more urgent than ever as digitalization is accelerating.  Maybe our guiding light in this digital transition should be to use technology to be more human?

 

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Lourdes Tejedor / @madrid2day

Equipo de Políticas Públicas, Telefónica.