This summer marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations (UN) in a time of turmoil and uncertainty. After the Second World War, countries across the World have signed the UN Charter in San Francisco in agreement to collectively work on a multilateral future. This year, the global pandemic not only reminds us that we are all interconnected, but also challenges us in upholding the principles that stand at the core of the UN Charter. The unprecedented crisis highlights the need for cooperation across countries, sectors, and generations. It is also a time of deep reflections about past, present, and what is ahead. Science and technology are the nexus of discussions ranging from finding a vaccine against COVID-19 to foresight for the future impact of AI and robotics on our lives and society.
In the light of the UN’s 75th anniversary, swissnex San Francisco and the Consulate General of Switzerland in partnership with ICRC, DiploFoundation, and ICT4peace are hosting a two-part digital conversation aimed at bridging the dialogue between Geneva, the world’s capital for humanitarian and diplomatic affairs, and Silicon Valley, the epicenter of tech innovation. We will explore the challenges and opportunities that new technologies are introducing to the multilateral and humanitarian sector by bringing the technology industry into a conversation with actors from the multilateral and humanitarian sector.
Inspired by the conviction that technology is key to the future of humanity, the Geneva Talks series explores the symbiotic relationship between technology and humanity. The current global health pandemic highlights how central technology has become to address international crisis, and touches on the core values of the UN Charter. The future of the UN and multilateral governance, housed in Geneva, will be inextricably linked to technological progress sparked in Silicon Valley.
On the second day of our digital conversations around the UN’s 75th anniversary, we will explore linkages across a distance of 5833 miles around the impact of science and technology on multilateral diplomacy. After an initial mapping by high-level panelists from tech and international governance, we will break out in two sessions:
- Breakout 1 (led by ICT4Peace)
If the UN was designed today, with the technology available, what would it look like?
Information technologies have made the world much smaller, making it easier for us to connect and exchange information. Where before we sent information via courier, now we can send live video and documents at the touch of a button. With relatively low barriers to entry, non-state actors, including from civil society and the private commercial sector now have visible platforms from which they can share their needs and concerns. Furthermore, as has been particularly brought to light by the current pandemic, meeting and other social media apps and platforms are allowing us to assemble and discuss through virtual means. If we were to design the UN today, with all of these technologies, what would it look like? What would be its core mission and mandate? Would participation, decision-making and implementation look radically different? What are the potential risks as well as the opportunities?
- Breakout 2 (Led by DiploFoundation/the Geneva Internet Platform)
Contact tracing: How will countries cooperate with each other and the tech sector and what is the role of the UN?
There is an interplay between the Bay Area and the Geneva Lake Area when it comes to contact tracing. The journey starts at the EPFL in Lausanne whose decentralized protocol was used by Google and Apple and used to develop their app. Contact tracing discussion affects almost every country worldwide as they try to contain the pandemic while restarting economic and social lives. Some countries go for a centralised solution. Others follow solutions where data is kept on our mobiles and used only to flag a potential physical proximity of somebody with COVID-19 virus. As travel across borders must resume, the question is how to make sure that different contact tracing apps are interoperable. If you travel from Canada to the USA or from Switzerland to France, your app should function across the border. Here, we come back to Geneva and discussions on digital cooperation. Should the UN World Health Organization or the International Telecommunications Union address cross-border cooperation? How can protection of privacy, safety and security be ensured? How to protect data? Is there a need for some new technical or data-exchange standards?
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