Carlos López Blanco is a lawyer, consultant and expert in Regulation and Digital Economy, State Lawyer (ex) and senior adviser at Flint. In this interview, he reveals some of the challenges that will have to be faced after this deep crisis and will show us how the cards of the game are distributed among the different countries that are struggling to lead the next technological battle and rise as a hegemonic power.
We are in a moment of profound social change caused mainly by the digitization of the economy and society. What are we dealing with?
There is much talk of the fourth industrial revolution as a paradigm of the technological transformation that we are experiencing, but I think that this formulation does not clearly reflect what is happening at the moment.
We are experiencing a change that is not technological, although it is enabled and facilitated by technology; It is a social change that affects the economy and businesses but that affects all aspects of social life: how we buy, how we read, how we relate, how we inform ourselves.
To constrain this change to a new phase of the Industrial Revolution is to make a very limited analysis: we are in a change of epoch only comparable to that of the industrial revolution of the late eighteenth century in Europe, which was not only a change in the economy, it was a change of era that gave rise to society as we know it today, in production but also in politics, in institutions and throughout society.
This change challenges us all: governments, companies, but also citizens who will have to understand these new ways of working, consuming or relating.
What role has the Internet and social media played in Brexit?
Very important, although we did not realize when some phenomena such as Brexit or Trump’s victory in the US were brewing.
What we are dealing with here is a phenomenon that has very profound implications for the future of our society and our political and social system: the bankruptcy of Public Opinion.
Public Opinion, as we know it, is one of the basic mechanisms of the functioning of the democratic system: it allows rulers and ruled to understand each other between election and election through consolidated, transparent means of communication and referred to the principle of accountability.
A good public opinion system makes it possible to understand at all times the dominant states of the opinion of citizens based on the common opinion of the most important media, which in turn reflects that of the citizens.
Well, this mechanism has not worked in these cases: no one who read the mainstream press in the USA or UK could have thought that Trump would be president or that Brexit supporters would win the referendum.
“It must be understood that social networks at this time lack the essential characteristics of traditional media in terms of transparency and accountability”.
However, an observer attentive to social networks could intuit that social opinion was very divided and that both phenomena were not impossible, which probably in the case of Brexit would have led to changes in the policies of the supporters of the permanence of face to the referendum.
This fact, in itself, should not be negative, but it must be understood that social networks at this time lack the essential characteristics of traditional media in terms of transparency and accountability.
When we read El Pais or the ABC or the New York Times, we know what we read, and what companies and interests are behind it. This is not the case in much of the digital media or, of course, in social networks. This is a major political challenge that should be addressed as soon as possible.
Faced with the belief that the Internet would be based on a single model according to the values of liberal society, we are seeing an authoritarian and restrictive counter-model emerge. Why does China have everything going for it to lead artificial intelligence?
Indeed, the birth and development of the Internet were accompanied by a series of principles that seemed indisputable: the Internet and the Digital world in general by its very nature was incompatible with barriers, limitations or controls, political or otherwise.
Censorship would never be possible in a digitized world and by definition based on a non-hierarchical network. The Arab Spring produced the mirage that confirmed this idea that the freedom of individuals would always prevail in the world of the 21st century.
China has put an end to this idea and the mirage has collapsed: it has shown that it is perfectly possible to develop an innovative and highly competitive model in the digital world that is compatible with tight political control by the authorities.
Certainly, it is not an easily replicable model, but it is the demonstration that the battle of the 21st century is going to be beyond technology, also in the models of society.
China has many strengths to challenge the US for the leadership of the next technological battle, which is already here, Artificial Intelligence. It has developed its research system sufficiently and it also has, and that is crucial, a database of its population that is possibly more extensive and sophisticated than that of any other country, including the United States.
This does not mean that Americans will not be able to maintain their leadership in the digital world, but the fight for technological supremacy in Artificial Intelligence will be intense.
In the world to come, what will make a country rich or poor?
Without a doubt, how are they capable of adapting to the digitization of the Economy and Society.
If I may simplify it, each change of era is like a new round in a poker game: cards are dealt again regardless of whether it was won or lost in the previous round (although this is not irrelevant) and therefore To a certain extent, all countries and regions have a certain degree of equality: this represents an opportunity and a risk for many countries.
For example, China and other Asian countries that did not have an industrial revolution per se are taking advantage of digitization to be at the forefront of the 21st-century economy. On the other hand, there are regions that may have difficulties in the 21st century despite having been the great protagonists of the Industrial Revolution like Europe (although I do not share the pessimistic diagnosis of the future of Europe).
We will see, therefore, that on the back of Digitalization the map of influence and power in the world of the 21st century will be redrawn, with emerging and other decadent powers.
What should be the foundations of the new global governance?
This will be a very complex process and Digitalization has yet to be consolidated so that it can be clearly addressed, but we already know that there are things that will need to be rethought: the Internet is a global phenomenon that requires global responses and it will also be necessary to consider new phenomena such as cybersecurity, global risks, taxation, and other issues that are going to radically change economic and social reality and that are global in scope and nature.
This is not going to be an easy process; Firstly, because the current mechanisms of global governance, such as the UN, are obsolete and face a crisis of legitimacy.
Secondly, many societies are reacting to the uncertainties of the 21st century with a withdrawal, suicidal, in themselves and in the nationalism that we now see re-emerge everywhere.
Third, and this is a key actor, the emergence of China as a world power with a digitization model far from Western principles and based on digital control and borders.
These challenges make it difficult to establish a new Governance model adapted to the digital society of the 21st century and to foresee, at this time, how its development will be.
What are the challenges facing the fundamental rights and freedoms of the 21st century?
There are those who in this context defend a total redefinition of our political and institutional system and of the rights and freedoms stemming from the declaration of Human Rights in 1948, creating a new kind of digital democracy based on new social media and sliding the system towards the plebiscitary.
In my opinion, this is not the way to go: the challenge is not how to redesign Democracy but how to adapt the Representative Democracy system to the demands of the 21st-century digital world.
“The challenge is not how to redesign Democracy but how to adapt the Representative Democracy system to the demands of the digital world of the 21st century”.
In this sense, the first effort should be, not how to redefine, but how to adapt fundamental rights to this reality, incorporating new fundamental rights such as the right of access to the Internet or the redefinition of the right to privacy or information to the demands that cybersecurity imposes certain rights.
There are rumors and conspiracy theories about the Coronavirus. Do you think there may be obscure interests behind this crisis for the health and the economy?
I understand that when we are all in a situation of concern such as the one we are going through and, in addition, in a state of isolation, this type of hypothesis can be seductive, but I am little in favor of conspiracy theories, especially when there is a more logical explanation and this is the case of the coronavirus.
What should be highlighted is that nothing will be the same after this crisis and we will have to face new challenges.
From the point of view of digitization, this crisis represents a before and after in matters as important as teleworking, electronic commerce or the legal validity of acts carried out without a presence.
It is early to make a fine analysis of this topic, but it will certainly have to be done sooner rather than later.
What book, web or blog do you recommend for those who want to deepen the digitization of the economy and society?
There are quite a few books that help us understand this reality.
I would highlight AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order by Kay-Fu Lee or Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman.
In Spanish, The End of Power by Moises Naim and Arden la Redes: post-censorship and the new virtual world of Juan Soto Ibars.
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