This week the World Government Summit took place in Dubai attracting considerable global interest. Though not immediately associated with excitement and anticipation, trends in government are receiving considerable attention. By 2020, 60 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities, putting a huge strain on existing government operations. Increasingly it is clear that governments across the board have to overhaul their approach to be more streamlined, effective and dynamic. What had begun as a niche academic reference, “The future of government” is fast becoming a school in itself.
Government is changing. With the development of cognitive technologies such as computer learning, natural language processing, robotics and speech recognition — the need to build government capabilities to use such developments is clear. They can be used to enrich government workforces and improve the quality and efficiency of government systems. Such technologies can support the way governments roll out services in law enforcement, transportation, health care and in collecting data. These developments have already begun and will continue to raise issues with regards to their ethical deployment. It is incumbent upon governments to use such technologies ethnically and to ensure citizen privacy. It is progressively clear that this will require a new cadre of officials and experts to navigate the ethical issues related to technologically reliant government.
The growing role of psychology in both informing policy and gauging citizen attitudes is increasingly clear. From a perspective of control, there is no doubt that insights gleaned from behavioral economics, psychology and analytics assist governments in tackling complex issues and in influencing citizen behavior without significant economic regulation or penalties. For example, the UK’s Cabinet Office has become increasingly dependent on its Behavioral Insights Team (Nudge Unit), which relates insights from academic research in behavioral economics and psychology to public policy and services.
Another feature of the role of psychology in government is the centrality of citizen wellbeing. The recent appointment of a minister of state for happiness in the UAE has highlighted this issue and was the motivation behind the “Global Dialogue on Happiness” that took place at the Summit. The World Health Organization expects depression to rank in the Top 3 biggest diseases within the next 15 years. It is therefore clear that in light of the fiscal, demographic and developmental challenges that the world will continue to face, governments must consider wellbeing a key feature of their operations. Wellbeing is not only critical to the general happiness of citizens but also in improving workforce productivity and so as to better guarantee citizen cooperation.
The rise of cyber warfare makes it challenging to distinguish among terrorists, organized criminals, fringe groups, nation states and hackers.Zaid M. Belbagi
Negotiating the difficulties posed by cyber threats to security and integrating technology into the defense of the state is a growing focus of analytical studies into the future of government. The rise of cyber warfare makes it challenging to distinguish among terrorists, organized criminals, fringe groups, nation states and hackers. This creates a dilemma for governments in choosing how to respond to attackers. It remains unclear as to how foreign hackers should be convicted and as to whether state-sponsored attacks should be responded to conventionally or through defensive cyber warfare. Cyberspace is increasingly being operationalized and in the next few years there is no doubt that the technology will exist to circumvent current obstacles. For example, sending a debilitating code to a missile or submarine via radio, enabling a crippling cyber-attack without use of the Internet.
However, just as such technologies pose challenges, the use of big data can also assist governments in ensuring peace and security, allowing for thorough analyses to be made in a short space of time. For example, government bodies must increasingly seek to combine new collection methods with big-data intelligence analytics. Advances in this field may lead to significant leaps in computer processing allowing computers to process huge data sets with software that can mimic human intuition and judgment. This could equip government with a new generation of powerful campaign and tactical decision aids, transforming conventional processes of command and control.
Such advances in governance cannot be deployed without a transformation in education. The rapid acceleration of technology has and will lead to new definitions of literacy. Going forward education will need to encompass emotional as well as social intelligence. As technology becomes more immersive, critical thinking, digital literacy and “compspeak” — the skill needed to access information using computers will need to feature in curricula. The initial wave of digital education centered on creating, sharing and accessing digital content, including online courses and digital libraries. However, as governments, schools and businesses begin demanding connected learning, a second wave of digital education is increasingly required that moves from content to connectivity. It will be an essential responsibility of government to support education that is responsive to changes in technology, with a view to building economic competitiveness as well as solidifying the very integrity of the state and its institutions through ensuring their effectiveness.
The art of politics from the Greek politika was born essentially as an organizing set of principles. Referring to “affairs of the cities” politics originated to regulate the lives of those living under central authority. There is no doubt that then as now, government is a means of establishing and consolidating power, an essential facet of policymaking. However, going forward citizen-centric government service delivery will compete with control as the principle duty of the state. The great advances in technology that are expected will make it incumbent upon governments to integrate them into their processes and to ensure education is applicable to them. Within this context, it is increasingly clear that the great security challenge posed by such technological advances remains unknown and governments will have to learn to adequately defend themselves against such threats. Governments must become more innovative in how they approach the challenges of our time so as to ensure continued societal progress, and importantly to maintain their institutional relevance. As the chairman emeritus of the MIT Media Lab Nicholas Negroponte declared at the summit, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).