UBI: The Global Antipoverty Experiment

By Tenzin Chomphel
Editor in Chief

The back and forth of the best way to resolve extreme poverty, wealth inequality, and just taxation, may often appear endless to most. While global poverty is lowering at a rate of roughly sixty-eight million people per year, that still leaves an unacceptably high level of poverty around the world. Domestically, the United States experiences an estimated thirty-eight million still in poverty, and inequality has additionally been on the rise, with the bottom ninety percent of households accounting for less than a quarter of the total wealth.

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AI: Changing the Tides of Water Sustainability

By Tanvi Bajaj
Staff Writer

In 2015, Senator James Inhofe confidently stepped onto the Senate floor, carrying a snowball. He then explained how global warming (and, in effect, climate change) could simply not exist since it was cold enough outside for the snowball he was holding in his hand to form.  

While laughable, Senator Inhofe’s argument is indicative of the centuries of neglect the environment has suffered at human hands. 

Today, sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, forests are burning, and animals are dying. 

It’s clear that something needs to change. 

Over the last few years, the use of artificial intelligence and its potential repercussions have been the source of many controversies. Morality and ethics have been called into question, as people share their fears that AI may soon render humans (especially in blue collar jobs) obsolete. While these concerns are valid, recent findings show that the development of artificial intelligence may have an unforeseen benefit. 

Artificial intelligence is poised to become the biggest game-changer in the face of climate change. According to a World Economic Forum report, AI refers to computer systems that “can sense their environment, think, learn, and act in response to what they perceive and their programmed purposes”. 

In 2015, the 193 members of the United Nations passed a resolution that put into place a 15 year plan of achieving 17 Sustainable Development goals by 2030 (SDGs). Then in 2017, the UN Artificial Intelligence Summit in Geneva suggested refocusing the use of AI technology to help achieve these goals and encourage long-lasting global sustainability. 

All over the globe, 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water while 4.5 billion people live without safe sanitation systems–with nearly one thousand children dying due to preventable water and sanitation related diseases every day. 

The problem is twofold: not only do people not have access to water, but often times, the water they do have access to is contaminated. AI is being used to mitigate the effects of a lack of clean water in a number of ways. Clean Water AI tackles the issue of water filtration by alerting users when water needs to be further filtered. A prototype IoT device uses pattern recognition and machine learning to inspect water quality through a digital microscope. These test systems could dramatically prevent disease and save thousands of lives simply by providing accurate information that would alert users as to whether or not their water needs to be further filtered. 

And if the water does need further filtering, AI can help to do so. For example, EMAGIN, an Oregon-based company, is using AI to create more accurate and timely information about the kinds of pollutants in water, make recommendations for treatments, allow facility operators to more effectively clean incoming wastewater, and prevent overflows. 

AI has the potential to revolutionize access to water and waste management systems, culminating in the development of fully decentralized water systems: in this system, water and wastewater treatment plants are located at the site of the water supply–preferable to large treatment plans that require miles of expensive infrastructure and are subject to contamination. 

Preserving our Earth’s natural resources and focusing on sustainability have never been as crucial as they are right now. While most of this AI is still in the process of being developed, its very existence is key in impacting the future of the planet in the upcoming years. More importantly, using something like AI (which was originally developed solely for computational and technological purposes) to support environmental sustainability sets an important precedent for all technology that is, and will be developed. The very nature of the UN acknowledging AI as a worthy investment to reach its SDGs is a testament to the potential that this technology has to improve different aspects of human life. 

The widespread impacts that just AI prototypes have had point to the necessity for greater investment into this growing field. Technology can and will be repurposed to solve world issues; and the aforementioned technologies prove that AI should be used to serve our larger global community. The time for action is now. And when the rest of the planet realizes the undiscovered possibilities of artificial intelligence, waves of change will follow. 

Photos courtesy of:
Pixaby

TECHPLOMACY: AN EXPERIMENT IN FOREIGN POLICY

by Pankhuri Prasad
Staff Writer

There is no denying that technology has transformed every aspect of our lives; the government sector has been no exception. In 2018, we saw tech-giant Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, face a series of congressional hearings where he had to answer for Facebook’s problematic data policies and entanglement with Cambridge Analytica. According to U.S. intelligence leaders, ‘social media disinformation’ practiced by Russia still remains a major threat to future elections in the United States. Beyond just social media, other technologies pose a challenge to governing practices across the world. Cryptocurrency and new financial technology (“fintech”) applications threaten to uproot traditional central financial units such as banks. Artificial Intelligence (AI) could displace thousands of workers.

Given the disruptive nature of technology, where does Techplomacy fit in?

“Techplomacy”—a “portmanteau” word—refers to the combination of technology and diplomacy, as foreign and security policies embraced the digital age. This concept acknowledges the key role that data-driven innovation and giant tech companies play in today’s society, reshaping the way we think about diplomacy in the 21st century. Techplomacy was initiated by Denmark in 2017 when it appointed the world’s first-ever “Tech Ambassador”, who enjoys a global mandate and splits his time between Silicon Valley, Beijing and Copenhagen.

Techplomacy initiative in Denmark

The first Tech Ambassador of Denmark, Casper Klynge, holds a Masters degree in Political Science (International Relations) from Copenhagen University. He has held many positions in his years at Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including serving as the Ambassador of Denmark to Cyprus, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, and ASEAN. In interviews, Klynge notes that his job requires a lot of traveling to cities across the world and meeting members of tech companies, civil societies, and governments. He urges other nations to also explore techplomacy and hopes to see more counterparts in his branch of diplomacy. He argues that techplomacy is not a disruption of traditional diplomacy but is actually complementary to it. In an interview with the World Economic Forum (WEF), he mentions, “We are bringing back diplomacy to its roots. This is about having a forward operating post in areas where things are happening.” After the appointment of the Tech Ambassador in 2017, the Danish Government launched their new ‘Foreign and Security Policy Strategy 2019–2020’. In this strategy, they have highlighted plans to strengthen Denmark’s cyber and information security through international engagement, promoting EU leadership in a new digital world order. Denmark wants to continue building alliances with the global tech industry and wishes to engage the United Nations to bridge the digital divide between the developed and developing worlds..

What is different about Techplomacy?

Techplomacy differs from simply creating regulatory policies about usage of technology or operations of tech companies. Instead, techplomacy aims at creating new avenues for dialogue

and collaboration between the tech industry and government. It recognizes tech companies as active stakeholders in forming policies. This concept is challenging the traditional notions of what constitutes a foreign policy. Foreign policy can be considered the patterns of interaction between governments and external entities; techplomacy challenges this by adding tech companies, their research, their products, and the consumers into the fray of policy-making interests.

Data Diplomacy

An article in The Economist calls data “the oil of the digital era” and discusses how tech giants have paved the way for a ‘data economy’. Private sectors have been quick to adopt and integrate big data into their mechanisms. However, governments and public sectors have yet to catch up. This can be particularly surprising when considering that diplomacy and crafting foreign policy are functions of careful historical analysis of patterns of human interaction. Using big data will not only accelerate this analysis but also make it more applicable. Commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, the DiploFoundation recently presented groundbreaking research on ‘data diplomacy.’ The report stated that data diplomacy can be looked at as an interplay of three dimensions—data as a tool for diplomacy, data as a topic for diplomacy, and data as something that changes the very environment in which diplomacy operates.
Data diplomacy differs from techplomacy, as it focuses on the application of technology to diplomacy rather than the introduction of new participants in the diplomatic process. Although this difference may make the two new branches of diplomacy seem mutually exclusive, failing to integrate technology into diplomacy means the relationship between the tech industry and foreign policy will not evolve. One can only talk so much about technology without understanding its impact on his or her own field. In this case, without recognizing the role of data, tech-plomats would not be successful in acting as a liaison to industry actors who own much of the world’s proprietary data. Therefore, in today’s digital era, diplomacy must continue to evolve, integrating technology while simultaneously recognizing the changing role of non-traditional stakeholders.  

Image by geralt