Silicon Valley and governments have to play nice if we want to save the world
Technology doesn’t always cooperate with us when we want it to. And sometimes governments don’t want to cooperate with it, either.
At the United Nation’s High-Level Event on Innovation and Technology, the key tech event for last week’s general assembly gathering, no one could seem to get the microphones working. Despite some of the tech industry’s most important titans being present—such as LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, and Mozilla Foundation executive chairperson Mitchell Baker—the 2.5-hour session on Sept. 18 was plagued with technical problems, including the entire conference room going dark. Twice.
The snafus were a fitting reminder of just how fragile our relationship with technology is. They reinforced a key point that recurred at various conferences during UNGA week: That all the talk of using technology to fight poverty, hunger, and gender inequality is useless if we can’t get over the most basic hurdle—universal access to the internet, which less than half the world currently has. Only then can we attempt to use our digital savvy to tackle the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), the UN’s ambitious framework for solving global problems by 2030.
In order to achieve any of this, however, technology leaders in the private sector and government leaders in the public sector are going to have to learn how to get along. Traditionally positioned as opponents at opposite ends of the ring—the private sector wanting to make a profit, the public sector wanting to make a difference—UNGA treated both as equals and encouraged them to shake hands instead of throw punches. True, lasting, global change isn’t the responsibility of either party alone, but to move forward, they’re going to have to find some middle ground on the following issues.
Photo courtesy of Pui Shan Chan.