United Nations digital economy report gives comprehensive insight into global emerging tech trends and the future impact on us all

United Nations flag
Photo: sanjitbakshi

The United Nations published its 2019 Digital Economy Report that is a comprehensive must-read for civic leaders who want to understand how emerging technologies will impact the global labor market, security, privacy, economy and more.

Digital trends addressed include blockchain, three-dimensional printing, Internet of things, 5G mobile broadband, cloud computing, automation and robotics, and rtificial intelligence and data analytics.

From Secretary-General António Guterres:

Digital advances have generated enormous wealth in record time, but that wealth has been concentrated around a small number of individuals, companies and countries. Under current policies and regulations, this trajectory is likely to continue, further contributing to rising inequality. We must work to close the digital divide, where more than half the world has limited or no access to the Internet. Inclusivity is essential to building a digital economy that delivers for all.

Full report: 2019 United Nations Digital Economy Report

Policy hackathon in SF to address U.S., European city challenges

Photo: Code for America
Photo: Code for America

A policy hackathon will be held in San Francisco on September 24 to “tackle problems brought by cities from the U.S. and Europe.” The event is part of Startup Europe Comes to Silicon Valley.

Details below:

What: Policy Hackathon addressing challenges brought by cities

Who: Government leaders, including from Spain, Italy and Norway, bring real challenges.  Policy hackers will include entrepreneurs from Europe and the United States, investors, policy makers, and academics.

When: Tuesday afternoon, September 24, followed by a reception and light dinner.

Where: Headquarters of Mind the Bridge, 450 Townsend St, San Francisco, CA

Roles: government representatives with a specific challenge to be hacked; policy hackers to develop and present possible responses to the challenge; judges to determine the best response.

The Policy Hack brings together experts from across the startup ecosystem to design solutions to policy challenges faced by local governments and is part of Startup Europe Comes to Silicon Valley

Several teams composed by entrepreneurs, investors, corporate executives, academics, and policy makers will be discussing challenges in these areas.

After a couple of hours of brainstorming (“hacking”) within each team, the solutions are then pitched to a panel of judges, who select the most convincing one.

How civic hackers helped California’s DMV get digital momentum

DMV website

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has experienced its fair share of criticism lately, which caused Governor Gavin Newsom to set up a DMV Strike Team to focus on reviewing and recommending “new long-term leadership and reform at DMV.” The team released a report in July.

Part of that effort focused on improving DMV’s digital experience, which has a long way to go.

Earlier this year, I worked on a prototype and wrote up my ideas (here and here) of how DMV should think about digital transformation, including working outwardly with the community.

Subsequently, the strike team collaborated with the Code for America Brigade Network on a series of state-wide series of user experience tests, which ultimately confirmed what everyone already knew, that “the end-user experience of the DMV website was not a priority.”

DMV Strike Team member Jacob Roper has a great post on the Code California blog about how my work, CivicDMV and the Brigades helped inspire DMV to “unlock” California’s DMV Web Services.

This is an inspiring story of how government can work with the community in gathering ideas, cultivating expertise and insights from those beyond the bureaucracy to contribute meaningful contributions to government in their own ways. In this case, it drove the momentum for change in ways we don’t often see with government.

Hopefully, DMV will continue this effort, and other agencies — inside and outside California — take this case study and build frameworks for engagement to help them get out of their own boxes.

The future of government is one that is a culture of open, and this is a small example of the possibilities.

From Jacob’s post:

By late July, the Strike Team worked with DMV to fix bugs, refresh content on the most commonly-viewed pages and restructure the homepage by creating clear navigational channels for users, emphasizing what CAN be done online. The team and staff also improved access to translation services, which jumped by 300 percent only a week after the change was made.

These were the first iterations of a larger redesign, with many more to come. As a result of this effort, we sensed the shift of energy within the team behind the DMV website. They were empowered, and are now driving forward their own ideas like streamlining content and improving customer service with a Chatbot (and eventually live chat services) to the department’s website.

Read more: How Civic Engagement Is Unlocking California’s DMV Web Services

The Government We Need: Code for America founder Jen Pahlka on how we can code a better government

Jen Pahlka
Photo: Code For America / Drew Bird

Government has historically been challenged in effectively leveraging technology to best serve the people. There are numerous, well-documented cases of public sector mishandling of technology projects, from the very public failed launch of to the many unseen, ineffective IT implementations that occur on a daily basis.

The Government We Need talks with Code for America founder Jen Pahlka about how technology can be a force for civic change.

Listen: How we can code a better government


Subscribe to The Government We Need on:

Intelligence community names privacy, civil liberties leaders

Wat is Privacy graffiti (Photo: Cory Doctorow)
Wat is Privacy graffiti (Photo: Cory Doctorow)

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and U.S Central Intelligence Agency named new leaders of their respective privacy, civil liberty units.

ODNI named Benjamin Huebner the chief of the Office of Civil Liberties, Privacy, and Transparency. Huebner previously worked as the privacy and civil liberties officer at the CIA. The CIA named Kristi Scott to replace Huebner.

From ODNI:

CLPT leads the integration of civil liberties and privacy protections into the policies, procedures, programs, and activities of the IC. Its overarching goal is to ensure that the IC operates within the full scope of its authorities in a manner that protects civil liberties and privacy, provides appropriate transparency, and earns and retains the trust of the American people.

And CIA:

The PCLO serves as an independent, primary advisor to the CIA Director and other senior Agency officials to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are integrated into the day-to-day conduct of the Agency’s mission. Ms. Scott serves as CIA’s primary liaison with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) and as the lead Agency officer for implementing the Principals of Intelligence Transparency for the Intelligence Community. In addition, Ms. Scott will serve as the designated CIA Senior Agency Official for Privacy.

A playbook for government as a platform

Government as a Platform
Photo: UK Government Digital Service

To paraphrase Portlandia, “put a playbook on it.”

There seems to be a playbook for all things digital government, and now there’s the “Government as a Platform Playbook” that provides deeper insight into the wonky word technologists often use to describe a more exponential approach to government service delivery.

The playbook is helpful for anyone — particularly government leaders who need a primer on the platform analogy — interested in building scalable, sustainable government.

As the authors of Government as a Platform Playbook define it:

Government as a Platform holds out the promise of radically better services for the public. And to do so in a way that makes it simpler and faster for both civil servants and politicians, the private sector and non-profits, to meet people’s needs. A world of government reorganized around shared components, APIs, standards and canonical datasets.

Read more: Government as a Platform Playbook

Democracy and ‘The Great Hack’

The Great Hack

The new Netflix documentary, The Great Hack, is an eye-opening account of how voter and social media profile data, particularly from Facebook, combined with a sophisticated, incendiary digital media campaign, can undermine democracy, as we saw happen with Brexit and the 2016 presidential campaign.

As Vice writes, the fundamental issue is the surveillance capitalism business model, where the users — and their personal data — are the product. It’s also the general public’s willingness to forgo their privacy to engage with others online, as well as its ignorance of how their political opinions can be swayed or inflamed. It’s becoming more difficult to escape unfavorable terms and conditions, but the willingness for social media users to provide their data — via polls, likes, shares — is alarming and ripe for political opportunists to target them during elections or active social movements.

The Great Hack is a must-watch for anyone active on social media or cares about how democracy can be influenced by foreign interference, especially those who expect to vote in the next elections.

As The Great Hack gets at, data rights is the new human rights.


In-Q-Tel explains explainable artificial intelligence

Explainable articifical intelligence
Photo: In-Q-Tel

The intelligence community’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel, published a helpful primer on explainable artificial intelligence.

I’m not an expert in AI and, if you’re not either, these excerpts may elevate your understanding:

As use of AI and Machine Learning (ML) becomes increasingly common across industries and functions, interdisciplinary stakeholders are searching for ways to understand the systems they are using so that they can trust the decisions such systems inform. This effort is sometimes referred to as “Explainable AI” or “XAI”.

The focus on trust and understanding that is driving the XAI movement relates to important questions of law and policy. An explanation for an AI or ML system can put the system’s reasoning into the open for debate about whether it is equitable or just, or may enable some sort of actionable understanding around why a decision was made.(5)

Some researchers, like Facebook’s Chief AI Scientist Yann Lecun and Google Brain’s Geoff Hinton, have argued that asking systems to “explain” themselves is a complex, infeasible task that may not lead to actionable insight.(6,7) Others disagree, arguing that explainability is necessary, as technologists need to consider the social implications of all parts of their AI systems.(8,9,10) Moreover, they argue, evolving research may make the task increasingly feasible.(11)

One helpful way to characterize efforts in XAI is by applicability — for example, whether a technique can be used to interpret or justify a single model or many, or whether it can be used to interpret or justify a single decision or larger trends.

While most new work and research on these techniques is coming from the academic sector, XAI tools are beginning to materialize in the market. Whether XAI companies will be able to stand on their own, or if these tools will primarily be absorbed as a feature by established AI/ML players, remains to be seen.

Read more: Explainable AI

Pineapple or pepperoni? Homeland Security’s pizza analogy hopes to educate the public on foreign interference of elections

Sailors prepare pizzas.
Photo: U.S. Navy

Because “responding to foreign interference requires a whole of society approach,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has published resources that help educate the public on ways hackers can impact U.S. elections.

These include primers on how foreign interference works (using the relatable example, “American Opinion is Split: Does Pineapple Belong on Pizza?”), associated terms, and the intricate nuances of social media bots.

DHS defines foreign interference as:

Malign actions taken by foreign governments or foreign actors designed to sow discord, manipulate public discourse, discredit the electoral system, bias the development of policy, or disrupt markets for the purpose of undermining the interests of the United States and its allies.

The initiative is part of Homeland Security’s #Protect2020 campaign to “enhance the security and resilience of election infrastructure, and to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the free and fair elections foundational to the American way of life.”