Can innovation save policy making for technology?

One of the topics discussed at this week’s annual World Economic Forum Global Future Council in Dubai was how governments are coping with setting the rules for disruptive technologies.

Can innovation save policy making for technology

As Alice Bunn, director at the UK Space Agency, put it at the WEF meeting this week: “the pace of innovation absolutely outstrips government’s ability to move forwards with guidelines that are appropriate for the technology of the day”.

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According to global market intelligence firm International Data Corporation (IDC), we’re in the midst of a digital innovation explosion where an estimated 500 million new logical apps will be created between 2018 and 2023: roughly equal to the number developed over the past four decades. IDC also expects AI-enabled user interfaces and process automation to replace one-third of today’s screen-based applications. It is, without doubt, an era of unprecedented change.

It’s also change that’s largely being driven by forces outside of government: industry, science and the public themselves. Innovation is driven primarily by commerce. To quote an example given by Madeline Carr, director at the United Kingdom’s Research Institute for Science of Cyber Security (RISCS) during the WEF meeting, today’s new luxury vehicles have four times the amount of software code than the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. Such is the pace of commercial innovation.

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As new technologies continue to get more and more embedded in public and commercial processes, so the level of disruption to all aspects of government, industry, education and life in general stands to increase.

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Carr considers that policy making today is a practice of “decision making under deep uncertainty”. What is certain is that the days of evidence-based policy making, as we know it, are numbered.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s party issued a whitepaper in 1999 asserting that government must produce policies “that are forward-looking and shaped by evidence rather than a response to short-term pressures”. Whilst this may have been appropriate for the time, it’s now becoming increasingly apparent that evidence-based decision making is unlikely to shape forward-looking policy.

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