What do we want technology to do for us? (Chapter in China Daily Report for the G20 meeting)

This chapter is from the report “Working Together to Build an Open Global Economy” that is jointly compiled by the editorial team of China Watch Institute, China Daily’s communication-led think tank, and the Institute of World Economics and Politics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

By completing a report on open global economy ahead of G20 leaders' arrival in Japan soon to forge consensus on challenging global situation, 16 experts worldwide have teamed up to explore how the world should respond at a time when globalization is at risk.

The Osaka Summit will be held on June 28-29.

The report will be launched on June 25 in Osaka when China Daily and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) hold the International Forum for Open Global Economy. Supported by several other international institutions and think tanks, the pre-summit forum is co-organized by the Asian Development Bank Institute and Japan-China Science, Technology and Culture Centre.

For more information please follow this link

My chapter is also available on the China Daily webpage and China Watch.

The full report can be found here.

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What do we want technology to do for us?

By Dennis Pamlin | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-05-30 07:18

We urgently need a conversation about the role of innovation in relation to what kind of society we want

With the accelerated uptake of new innovations all around us, the opportunities and challenges they present are enormous. We are facing technologies and innovations that can disrupt the very fabric of society, from AI and genome editing to brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and nanotechnology. All of these technologies are very powerful on their own, but when they converge and are combined with new business models significant disruptions on a global scale will happen.

Many companies, policymakers and journalists oscillate between hope and despair in relation to the new generation of technologies. It is easy to feel confused as different experts seem convinced that these technologies will either solve all our problems, or be the end of our civilization. The truth is however that they can be pretty much what we want them to be. They are tools, powerful tools, but still only tools.

There will be unforeseen consequences and complexities that will make it hard to guide technology exactly in the direction we want it to go, but nonetheless people are choosing how to implement the technologies and the frameworks that will guide innovation. The challenge is that innovation driven development in the first decades of the 21st century will take place in a historically-unique situation.

For more than 300,000 years human innovation has mainly focused on developing technology to enhance and extend our bodies to make us stronger, faster and more efficient with the help of machines and tools. The reason for this has been the urge to survive, to reduce material scarcity. We needed "more", more food, more shelter, more medicines, and so on. We created tools like GDP to measure progress based on "more", and we became used to viewing growth as something generally positive.

This focus on "more" has resulted in unprecedented material progress. Humans on average live longer, are healthier, and have access to better food, medicine and shelter. We can and should celibate this progress. Few of us would like to live in a time when we do not know if we will be able to have enough to eat next day, or whether a simple infection will kill you. But, as with all things in nature, unlimited growth is neither possible nor desirable, in our own bodies unlimited growth is called cancer.

When it comes to everything from food to medicine, we have arrived at a point where we need to move beyond more and ask deeper questions, and in no other field this is more true than innovation.

As we are closing in on, or in many cases have already passed, the point when we do not need or can have "more", there is a need to direct our innovation skills to the structures guiding innovation. Inclusion is one of the most discussed challenges of the rapid innovation-driven development. With AI and robotics in particular we can create a future that will not require many humans to produce the material goods we need. In a similar way many of the services that humans provide today AI and connectivity will be able to do better, faster and cheaper. The inclusion challenge is often framed around unemployment, but it is much more than this.

It is a question of what role people will have in society. A universal basic income or similar measure will ensure that people do not starve to death, but it will not make sure that people have something meaningful to do. Instead of framing the question of inclusion as a question of income, or right to work, we need to ask how we guide innovation in a way where everyone has the opportunity to make an important contribution to society.

And with technologies that are not just about making us stronger and faster, but also smarter, it becomes important for everyone to be able to discuss what kind of values these technologies are based on. Who has the right to data about us and who has the right to filter and guide what information we can access are core questions that must be discussed.

We need a conversation about the role of innovation in relation to what kind of society we want.

It is not an exaggeration to say that much of the innovation is providing trivial or even meaningless contributions to society. If you open the app store on your smartphones and compare that to the most important challenges facing humanity it is hard to see much overlap.

A discussion of what sort of society companies are creating and how governments use technology is urgent.

Last, but by no means least, we must redefine our relationship with nature. Currently we are destroying the very fabric of life that we all depend on, and to a large extent we do this with innovations aimed at delivering us more of stuff we don't need or really want. Instead of a reactive or negative approach where we try to put a price on nature, or find boundaries for how much we can destroy, we should explore the opportunities for positive visions.

The Half Earth proposal - that half of the Earth's land should be designated a human-free natural reserve to preserve biodiversity - could help us broaden our ethical horizon and move away from a simple anthropocentric perspective to a future where innovation is guided by structures where nature also has an intrinsic value.

The upcoming G20 Osaka Summit where innovation is a key theme provides a great opportunity for leading stakeholders to take the next step for innovation driven development. It is time for governments, companies, universities and others to start discussing what sort of society we want our innovations to help create.

The author is a senior adviser at Research Institutes of Sweden, a senior associate at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and a fellow at the Research Center of Journalism and Social Development at Renmin University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Roadmap for a fossil-free Sweden (World): By the Digitalisation Consultancy Industry

Role: Lead-Author and project leader

Summary
More than 30 leading firms in the digitalisation consultancy industry have joined forces behind this roadmap and we are united in our ambition to help society recognise and tap the potential of digitalisation for a fossil-free future. We believe it is critical that the digitalisation that is providing some of the most powerful tools humankind has ever created is given a framework for contributing to a smart and sustainable future.

The contents of the roadmap were developed in parallel with and largely based on the strategic long-term vision for a climate-neutral Europe presented by the European Commission on 28 November 20181 and the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 C that describes

pathways to achieving the 1.5 C target by implementing new and smarter solutions (products and services) that lead to steep reductions in energy and resource consumption.

Digital solutions can help reduce emissions in three ways. First, existing systems can be optimised. Second, the uptake of sustainable solutions can be accelerated. Third, transformative changes can be achieved.

A transformative change that results in radical and rapid reductions of GHG emissions occurs when the impacts of digitalisation at various levels work together, i.e., when novel technical solutions, business models, economic incentives, new legislation, social planning, new financing models and methods for assessment and creating transparency, etc., are brought together.

One serious challenge is that the less significant contributions of digitalisation (optimisation of individual products) are relatively easy to explain, measure and support politically, while the greater, transformative and systemic changes are often more difficult to explain, measure and support politically.

The transformative and systemic changes demand numerous interacting measures that often require collaboration among government ministries, public agencies and sectors in a way that seldom occurs today. Consequently, focus is apt to end up on the minor contributions of digitalisation, with risk that the major contributions will be ignored.

Link to report here

From the Silk Road to the stars (Article in China Daily)

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Below is an article published in China Watch. The original article can be found here

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By Dennis Pamlin | 中国日报网 |

Updated: 2019-01-24 10:17

With its successful Jan. 3 moon landing -- the first ever on the “dark side of the moon” -- China helped humanity take another step toward becoming a space-faring civilization.

In the world we live in, the successful moon landing was unfortunately not only celebrated, but was seen by many from a confrontational perspective. US President Donald Trump has already declared that he wants to create a new “Space Force” by 2020. The plan is to make that space force the sixth branch of the military. Without leadership, space could become the next major conflict zone and any space activity seen as a provocation by competing forces.

With many global challenges, we can and should not waste resources on a military space race. Current weapon technology means the consequences of a future space war could also be fatal for humanity. At the same time, it is obvious that the resources for military expansion into space would be much better used if they were invested for peaceful purposes -- as well as addressing urgent global challenges such as world poverty, growing inequity and the accelerating ecological collapse due to biodiversity loss and climate change.

With the successful moon landing, China now has the attention of the world and thereby an opportunity to help shape the direction of global space exploration. A new direction for space exploration could also help set a new standard for global collaboration. Clarifying that the space exploration should be peaceful is a good first step. However, the current situation provides us with a unique opportunity and China should consider establishing a three-pronged approach to sustainable space exploration that would be integrated into an eco-civilization agenda.

First, a new set of global goals for space exploration should be presented. The international Space Station (ISS) where the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada collaborate, has demonstrated that international space collaboration is possible. A global action plan to develop the technology to prevent future asteroid impacts through the capacity to detect, track and deflect asteroids could be one of humanity’s greatest collaborative achievements, which would reduce one of the main long-term threats to human civilization. China could also propose a global approach to the first human settlement on Mars, and help ensure that the settlement is built on sustainable technologies. These initiatives should be science driven with total transparency and a research agenda where people all around can collaborate.

Second, the excellent work by United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, which demonstrates the benefits of space exploration for global sustainability, should be accelerated. China could challenge all countries and companies active in space exploration to make relevant solutions for key global challenges available for free. An even stronger link between space exploration and global sustainability would help strengthen peaceful collaboration.

Third, it is time to integrate global infrastructure development on earth with peaceful space exploration. The establishment of the first permanent colony beyond Earth is within reach. This generation could be the first one to experience how we as Homo Sapiens became a space-faring species. A long-term plan for equitable and sustainable space exploration is an important part of such a journey.

By exploring how all major infrastructure investments on earth can help accelerate and guide space exploration in a sustainable direction, we can ensure that space becomes a shared project that is about increased benefits and knowledge for all. Technology development on Earth and in space should support each other so that they can help us move beyond our destructive industrial civilization and focus on the transition to a global eco civilization.

As the largest infrastructure project on the planet the Belt and Road Initiative could lead the way by integrating not just traditional sustainability goals, but also by helping develop and deliver on sustainability goals for an emerging space civilization.

We already see leading thinkers arrange events such as UN Industrial Development Organizations’ “BRIDGE for Cities - Belt and Road Initiative: Developing Green Economies for Cities”. During the BRIDGE event in 2018, links between the Belt and Road Initiative, space exploration and sustainability were discussed with representatives from both China and Europe. Hopefully, we will see more meetings in 2019 at which a peaceful space agenda can be discussed in the context of global sustainability goals.

It will take some time getting used to thinking of humanity as a space civilization. However, many of the children born today will be alive 2100 and by then, we will most certainly be a space civilization. The question is: What kind of civilization will that be? Let us do what we can so that those alive in 2100 will be able to look will back at 2019 as the year when, despite many conflicts and problems, the world took the first significant steps towards a spaced based eco-civilization.

Dennis Pamlin is a senior adviser at the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE). The author contributed this article to China Watch exclusively. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of China Watch.

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