How to solve today’s tech challenges: secure data, close the digital divide, boost leadership

Each decade has fundamentally changed security and technology. In the 2000s, much of the world focused on counterterrorism: The Twin Towers had been hit, and the years that followed were dominated by the global response to terrorism. The next decade brought disillusionment with both technology companies and governments. Conversations around technology grew more nuanced, especially with regards to national security. The motto of Silicon Valley was infamously “move fast and break things,” and things broke.

The decade to come will be the “GeoTech Decade,” in which the technology trends that began in previous years will become fixed in terms of their impact on society. After fourteen months of study and debate, the Atlantic Council’s Commission on the Geopolitical Impacts of New Technologies and Data launched its first report with recommendations to guide leaders as they make choices regarding technology and data.

Here are a few key takeaways from the second session of the launch, moderated by David Bray, director of the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center, and Stephanie Wander, deputy director and senior fellow at the GeoTech Center.

Closing the digital divide and leading the pack

  • In the opening fireside chat, Max Peterson, vice president of worldwide public sector at Amazon Web Services, outlined the unprecedented technological change in the last year as government and the private sector have pushed services to a quarantining country. He called for strong international cooperation, closing the digital divide, and building robust human capital. Commissioner Maurice Sonnenberg agreed on the value of international cooperation, saying, “We’re not on top of the world anymore,” so the United States must work with like-minded countries as we pursue technology leadership.
  • David Treat, senior managing director at Accenture’s Blockchain and Multiparty Systems, also echoed Peterson’s call, referencing how the last year has shown the need for assured supply chains and data-driven decision making and innovation at a previously impossible pace. Yet, even as he described the “wildly powerful technology” society can now access, he warned, “I hope we don’t lose an ounce of focus that the digital divide is growing, and if we don’t use the power of public-private partnerships to drive digital inclusion, it will be irreparable.”
  • Wander emphasized how to bring women into conversations around technology, saying that the best conversations are those where everyone is represented.

Watch the full event

Security and privacy for data and technology

  • Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe introduced US Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA-1). “Technology has long been one of the strongest ways to improve and advance society,” she said, “but technology does not exist in a silo.” Technology has permeated our lives in the last year as people made use of telehealth and remote school, yet 46 percent of Americans feel that they have lost control of their data. “The concern around consumer data protection has been brewing for years,” DelBene noted, and there are still few federal standards. Her proposed Information Transparency and Privacy Data Control Act aims to clarify privacy policies and introduce audits to create a privacy ecosystem that showcases when data storage goes well, not just when it goes poorly. 
  • US Congressman Michael T. McCaul’s (R-TX-10) prepared remarks highlighted how crucial assured supply chains are, touching on a subject covered in the second chapter of the report. He wrote, “The purpose of my [CHIPS for America Act] is to secure a domestic supply of advanced semiconductor chips. Without a secure supply of semiconductor chips, we are subject to the whims of the [Chinese Communist Party]. Without a secure supply of chips, we are unable to build any advanced technology. And without a steady flow of chips, we run the risk of falling behind in AI, quantum computing, and other bleeding-edge technology.”
  • Internet pioneer and co-creator Vint Cerf added a new word to the discussion: In addition to security and privacy, the conversation around technology must also discuss safety. “The only reason anyone would trust all these systems is that they’re basically safe to use,” he said. “The real question is how do we construct safety out of components that are not necessarily individually trustable and safe?” Government, private, and personal systems are all at risk; to achieve a technical environment where all sectors are properly protected, all must collaborate, Cerf explained, adding that to move forward, the government must incentivize digital safety among the general public.  

Technology for good

  • Ramayya Krishnan, dean of the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, discussed how technology and policy will impact the future of work. While most think of technology as replacing jobs, that isn’t always the case. He discussed the example of bank tellers, who have seen new technologies increase the number of teller jobs as their work became augmented, not automated. This highlights the need for programs that teach employees new skills, as tellers now need new training in bridging and explaining technology to bank customers. At the same time, Krishnan said, “Where technology is making decisions that are social, you have the need for guardrails.”
  • Sonnenberg and Bray concluded the discussion emphasizing the need to use the commission’s recommendations to inform US diplomatic activities globally, such as in building a coalition of democracies and partnering with global entrepreneurs on data and tech efforts to shape the future.

Rose Butchart is the senior advisor for national security initiatives at the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center 

Read the GeoTech Commission Report

geotech, economy, data, trust

In-Depth Research & Reports

May 25, 2021

Report of the Commission on the Geopolitical Impacts of New Technologies and Data

By The GeoTech Center

An in depth report produced by the Commission on the Geopolitical Impacts of New Technologies, making recommendations to maintain economic and national security and new approaches to develop and deploy critical technologies.

Cybersecurity Defense Technologies

Catch up on part one of the report launch event

Image: US President Joe Biden holds a semiconductor chip as he speaks prior to signing an executive order, aimed at addressing a global semiconductor chip shortage, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 24, 2021. Photo via REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.