I will be participating in a panel on using technology for governance at the Global Technology Summit on 7-8 December 2017 in Bengaluru. This is an annual event organized by Carnegie India. Problems associated with policy implementation can be potentially solved through partnerships with the private sector and the use of technology. But to gain maximally from such efforts, both policy makers and executors have to realign their vision and understand the technology space for what it is: a vibrant zone of activity, willing to test, experiment, fail, and learn. This fundamental shift in approach from existing governance models presents both huge opportunities and challenges, as this panel probes.
Our colleague Nalaka Gunawardene has written a Facebook post where he asks “Robots in politics? Why not?” This provides a gateway for a substantive discussion on the role of technology in governance. First, we have to rephrase the question. I understand politics to be the art of contributing in various ways to governance.
The roiling debate on Internet governance in a post-Snowden world is not one that we participate in fully. There are only so many hours in a day. But this debate caught my eye. Someone systematically engaging Richard Hill, the theorist behind the ITU’s position at WCIT 2013. It seems to me that what most bothers the statists is that the Internet has broken up the tight controls that states used to be able to exercise over thought, expression, and access to information.
The Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, Dr Keshav Man Shakya, who inaugurated the conference said that he kept thinking e governance though he was asked to speak on e democracy. In my talk, I decided to explore the interface between the two. I did not think it very useful to talk in broad generalities but wanted to bring up specific things that Nepal could do within a year or two. What is e democracy? Is it the broadest meaning of replacing representative democracy with direct democracy enabled by the ability of citizens to ostensibly vote on all matters requiring collective decisions?
People have been sending me pictures, not of Qaddafi dead, but of people taking pictures of the dead Qaddafi. I was among those who speculated on the role of cameras in moderating the crackdown in Bahrain (before the real crackdown): “Could the ubiquity of cameras be the differentiating factor? Cameras are everywhere in Tripoli and Manama; images keep coming out, despite confiscations of cameras, SIMs, and whatever picture-snapping gadgets there are. Prabhakaran’s captives had no cameras.” Now here is a report on the use of low-end digital cameras (not very different from mid-range mobile phones) in constraining electoral fraud.
The European Court of Auditors’ latest report reveals that billions of euros funding into research networks have been wasted. It says the EU’s flagship research programme spent €17 billion, almost half its budget, on two types of pan-European project without setting clear objectives. Some people in Brussels must have been smoking wrong stuff. That’s Europe’s problem. But the EU often lectures us on good governance and wise spending.