OECD Project going digital: Making the transformation work for growth and well-being

19 Dec 2017 12:15h - 13:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

The session addressed the outputs, the possible scenarios, and the weak signals of the OECD Going Digital Project launched in January 2017. Ms Molly Lesher, Coordinator, OECD Going Digital, stressed that the project involves every policy community at the OECD and has three main goals: to understand how digital transformation impacts the economy and society; to provide policymakers with tools to regulate in the digital era; and to help overcome the gap between technology and policy development.

The OECD identified several vectors in these three main goals:

  1. Scale, scope, and speed. Companies can scale up fast with little investment in capital and labour.
  2. Ownership, assets, and economic value. Digital information can be stored anywhere, separating value from ownership.
  3. Relationships, markets, and ecosystems. Data crosses borders, defying established concepts of territoriality and sovereignty.

Mr Duncan Cass-Beggs, OECD Counsellor for Strategic Foresight, defined digital transformation as a combination of a range of technology that creates a new ecosystem which is globally available, and likely to generate a new economy and society on a global scale. This transformation brings some uncertainties, such as who controls the data. Should individuals have more control over their personal data? Data has fundamental importance because it is the raw input for Artificial Intelligence, which is at the core of the future of the Digital Economy. Another uncertainty is the market structure, and whether we will see larger dominant corporations. The end of privacy and the role of governments are also relevant features of the digital transformation.

Dr Carolyn Nguyen, Director of Technology Policy, Microsoft, was concerned that the foresight scenarios presented by the OECD may be taken out of context and have adverse impact on business and digital transformation. She believes that stakeholders should work towards an integrated technological environment. She suggested that to enable digital transformation across borders, different actors need to design interoperable policy frameworks. In addition, best practices and self-regulation should facilitate the digital transformation.

Mr Johannes Ruhl, Councilor, Permanent Delegation of Switzerland to the OECD, recognised that the strategic foresight presented by Ms Lesher and Mr Cass-Beggs has great value to governments, if they don’t do strategic foresight. The fact that government is slow to react to technological developments may be an opportunity for different actors to develop their strategies. As a general approach, he did not think it is necessary to regulate transformation from the beginning.

Ms Olga Cavalli, University of Buenos Aires, presented a perspective as a professor, member of the Internet Society Board of Trustees, and as a member of the Internet Society community. She affirmed that rapid digital transformation does not happen everywhere, considering that there are parts of the world without connectivity and the Internet. There is an avenue for quick change, but there is also an avenue that goes slowly. The gap between these two worlds might grow with new technologies which bring disruptive changes to economies.  According the Internet Society report titled Path to our Digital Future, developing countries in Latin America will suffer in implementing the technological infrastructure in small and medium companies. In addition, most platforms – considered to be transforming – are based in developed economies. Information and data collected by these platforms will be placed in developed countries. The effects of digital transformation will therefore be different in developed and developing countries.

Dr Suso Baleato, Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University, Institute for Quantitative Social Science, representing the view of civil society, supported what the OECD has been doing in the project. He thinks privacy is a major priority in the era of digital transformation, as without privacy, there is no freedom and democracy. However, privacy should not be seen as something that will slow innovation, but more as an enabler for fair transformation. He suggested that the project should include a global dimension, encompassing developing countries and ethnic minorities. Finally, he said that the project should consider energetic conditions. For example, the Bitcoin use of 352 terabytes per hour. The energy consumed by technology should be considered in the project.

By Ana Maria Corrêa