In September I joined the 2019 Digital Summit in Dublin, where I was invited to deliver a speech on technology and politics. The Digital Summit brings together stakeholders from across society to discuss technological innovation and the challenges facing all of us. It’s a forum designed to tackle hard questions in a thoughtful, serious, and mutually respectful way. In that regard, the summit built on what I believe to be one of the more constructive and least told stories in modern history—the relationship between technology and politics in society, and the work of policymakers who helped lay the foundation for our digital century.
Over the past 30 years, in democracies around the world, policymakers’ support for the free flow of goods, services, and ideas has created a larger, more diverse, more inclusive digital economy. It’s fostered a world where individuals are empowered through wider access to knowledge, and where start-up entrepreneurs and small businesses can reach customers around the globe. As the World Bank has found, over the past 25 years more than 1 billion people have emerged from extreme poverty—an event unparalleled in human history. That’s due in no small part to the twin rise of technology and trade. And today, with innovations in areas like artificial intelligence, we stand on the cusp of even greater advances.
This amazing story of human progress didn’t come out of the ether. The policies and attitudes of open societies made it possible. From investments in ARPA and the National Science Foundation to the pioneering work at CERN, policymakers created the environment that made invention happen. More than just permitting innovation, they championed the idea of a world in which technology could support greater prosperity, freedom, and individual empowerment. History doesn’t often talk about that, but I think it will ultimately tell the story of how that framework helped unleash the human ingenuity that will help us address the most serious challenges of our time.