Denmark has decided to elevate technological diplomacy to a priority in its foreign and security policy, especially given that most tech giants are now wealthier, and more powerful, than many countries. Recently, I interviewed Denmark’s Tech Ambassador Casper Klynge, who is the world’s first ever Tech Ambassador. Mr. Klynge was previously an Ambassador to Indonesia, Republic of Cyprus, and ASEAN. He has held positions with the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Afghanistan, Europe, and Africa. Mr. Klynge served in the Danish Armed Forces and received a NATO Medal (ISAF). He has taught at the Royal Danish Defense College and holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Copenhagen University. Here’s our interview:
Q: Why did Denmark create a global tech ambassador, which is really the first position of its kind?
Casper: It was a response to realities in the 4th Industrial Revolution. We have to be proactive about the fact that technology is going to be the parameter that defines development. Another factor is that big tech companies are becoming very large corporations, and therefore, very influential corporations.
There was a feeling in the Danish government and Danish foreign ministry that we needed a formalized and structured platform on which to put technology; it needs to be on the agenda both internally and externally. Additionally, doing so would enable us to have an opportunity to speak and influence tech companies in a way similarly to how we would when developing financial relationships with global countries and foreign and international organizations.
Q: As the global tech ambassador, what are the scope of your responsibilities?
Casper: We have a very, very, very broad agenda, ranging from discussions on online regulations and cybersecurity, to looking at how we can introduce technology in our development corporations in Africa or Asia.
If we were to boil it down, my responsibilities include three focal points:
- First, I’m expected to be a forward operating post – not only in Silicon Valley, but also in Beijing and Africa and the Middle East – in order to stay current on what’s happening on the technology front. Essentially, I should be able to answer several key questions: What new technologies are being developed? What opportunities do they give a country like Denmark or Europe? How do we respond to those technologies? How can we make the technology inclusive to bring everybody on board? The flip side of this is also trying to anticipate the pitfalls of technology and attempting to prevent them from taking root. This is all an important part of the job that I do together with my team. We all collaborate with classic diplomatic roles to have a presence on the ground, gather analyses, and report back with the goal of better understanding the impact of new developments and how to respond to them from a policy point of view.
- Second, I work to offer Danish authorities – or in a broader sense, Danish society – the opportunity to represent their views vis-à-vis the tech companies. For example, say there is a tech company operating in Denmark in an area where we might have some differences of opinion on how a particular platform is used (i.e. data protection or taxation issues). We now have a startup embassy and negotiating mechanisms in place (i.e. tech presentations) to initiate discussions with those companies in hopes of finding solutions that work for them and for Denmark and for the Danish society. We haven’t had this opportunity before – at least not in the structured way we do now – and these mechanisms for engagement bring added value to Denmark and to the companies, who now have a platform where they can convey views and suggestions on regulations.
- I believe this last role to be incredibly important: helping to institute an international agenda where technology and digitalization are made mainstream in basically everything that we do. No matter what we talk about – be it developments in the South China sea, emerging economies, transportation, healthcare, or education – technology transcends all those areas, and we need to recognize that internationally and multi-laterally. We also need to carefully consider what governance will look like in the 4th Industrial Revolution: How do we maximize all the opportunities that technology brings about while simultaneously minimizing some of the risks that arise with it? Denmark is a very digitalized country and has always been open to using technology, and this pragmatic approach towards it is why we have something to offer. My team’s focus lies on making sure we find the right balance between welcoming new technologies and setting the right boundaries.
Q: I love how you broke it down into three different roles and love the concept of point #2, especially because the European Connected Health Alliance and Canadian Integrated Health Alliance are working together through their I-Map program. Their goal is to convene the ecosystem (from startups, academia, and nonprofits) to tackle some of the most prominent digital health problems in countries. Anyway, I digress! To get back on track, I have met with and hosted many of Denmark’s permanent secretaries in California. One of their issues is trying to figure out how to develop modern policies and government technologies that enable innovation yet are non-detrimental to future growth. However, given the fact that they don’t know much about technology from a technical standpoint, are you working with them to craft the best tech policies? If so, how?
Casper: That’s a relevant question because I can bring an insider’s perspective on the dynamics of how a small country like Denmark works to the table. In fact, you’re referring to an important area where we play a significant role in bringing information back to Denmark on what other countries are doing in terms of policy and regulation. We’re not just looking just at Silicon Valley in California, but also researching what is being done in Israel and other parts of Europe, as well as Singapore and Korea. A critical role of my team’s mandate is to find multiple countries’ best practices for really utilizing technology in innovative ways.
It’s also important to mention a caveat: we’re not tech sector experts, nor do we have any ambitions to become such. For example, when I acted as Denmark’s Ambassador to Indonesia, I had to report back on Indonesia’s response in the South China Sea and various rule development challenges in the country. There are many aspects and subjects as an ambassador that you wouldn’t necessarily be a sector expert on. But because you’re a forward operating post, you have your ears to the ground, have a better sense of what’s going on, and a better handle on the realities that exist when reporting back. For example, how quickly are developments actually commencing?
Our goal is to employ a sound, collective, and realistic approach to new technology. As an embassy, you represent the whole entity of government by default, which applies to my whole team. We work equally as much for each extension of the government; the Danish Ministry of Healthcare, Danish Ministry of Defense, Danish Ministry of Business, and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs all fall on our plate. If you look at our, let’s call them, ‘customers,’ we have a lot of interaction with a lot of other ministries back home. I would also actually count the private sector and civil society back home, in Denmark, as our customers. They’re also quite interested in what we can offer, which could include anything from getting them some limelight on the Danish tech solutions, to showing them what Danish companies are capable of doing globally, to helping them with their internal reform processes. This is a mental revolution, which is incredibly important. A very important contribution from my team is acting as a foreign ministry and as representation to help gently nudge the Danish society in a direction, where reflections on new technology and the kinds of reforms we need to go through come to the forefront of the political agenda. Additionally, if we can at the same time help set an international agenda that is also an increasingly integral part of global discussions, then I would be a very happy man and believe that Denmark would have done something good for humanity, especially considering there’s a lot of critical questions related to tech that need to be answered to form the international agenda, as well.
Q: Yes, I agree with you and believe that Denmark can show the world how to become tech savvy. The reason why Estonia is leading is because they’ve been bold in their approach to technology – especially considering that they’re creating an agency that is led by an AI – and they are also a smaller country that can be a bit nimble. The world is taking examples from them (i.e. the Digital Health Societies) due to their being awarded the EU Presidency. Before resigning, NYC CTO Miguel Gamino talked to me about the disruptive force of new technologies. He stated that most technology companies are user-centric, not human-centric. He presented some impending issues that may occur, such as what happens to the parking attendee who tickets your car, or to the traffic court officials when driverless cars become prevalent? Will that whole economy be wiped? What he’s working on is developing a disruptive lab to bring together ecosystems of tech companies to understand their impact on local economies. This is relevant because in your NPR interview you talked about the “digitally poor.” Casper, can you define what you meant by digitally poor, and maybe how you’re trying to create international and domestic agendas that account for the digitally poor?
Casper: Well, I can give it a shot! I think that there is both a domestic and international dimension. If you look at the domestic side, we’re a very small country. People would probably laugh if we say we also have challenges between the core and the periphery.
What do new technologies pose in terms of challenges? If you look at the wave of new mobile technologies, like 5G technology, they will become necessary in order to have driverless vehicles or to allow upload speeds that enable virtual realities. Now, if that’s only an urban phenomenon, they will actually create some imbalances between the sense of the periphery and the core, even in a small country like a Denmark. If you then, of course, elevate this same local discussion to the global level, what we must pay attention to and be responsible for as global actors – and Denmark hasn’t historically had a strong focus on developing nations and countries that have a lot of challenges – is focusing on the digitally poor and the digital divide. This is something I strongly believe we must focus on. If you look at the regions or countries that will fall way behind because they don’t have the necessary infrastructure or the competences or the tech skills, they will be the root cause of the next wave of migration or radicalization and extremism. In order words, the digitally poor and the digital divide will create many global challenges, as well.
We can look at technology in a way where we recognize that it creates the opportunity to create a digital dividend – essentially bringing people out of poverty, growing economies, providing better education and healthcare, and having less global conflict. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are some risks in some parts of the world and places that will fall behind even in our own countries. We must pay attention to them to avoid potential radicalization and post-international threats.
Q: Thanks for sharing your point of view of the digital divide. In helping to spread the digital and tech wealth, how are you partnering with companies? What kinds of global alliances are you looking to build? Many of my government industry peers are super interested in trying to figure out how to advance your goals, but they don’t know how to engage with you. How do they engage with you and your team?
Casper: We want to create a new alliance that focuses on technology, responsibility, and the right responses to new opportunities and risks. We’re a small country, but we have a modest approach. We’re focused on bringing together like-minded countries and international organizations, but, more importantly, the private sector to increase the frequency of having discussions around several key issues: What do we do in terms of ethics for data? How do we set the right boundaries for artificial intelligence? What do we do when it comes rolling out 5G to all parts of our societies? These are important questions. Yet the most important ones center around the governance issues.
You may ask what we’re hoping to get out of these conversations. First and foremost, tech industries and tech companies will assume a societal responsibility, which is proportional to the influence and economic power that these companies hold. I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’re seeing some positive developments. It is important for the tech industry to realize that we’re not here to hammer down and create very difficult and complicated commercial frameworks for them. Rather, we are interested in having conversations about the areas of our highest concerns and communicating that they should take the responsibility upon themselves to help work together with governments to find solutions for issues around online content, misinformation and cybersecurity. We do need the tech sector to step up to the plate and assume that responsibility. Some companies have stepped up proactively to have conversations, but we’re seeing other companies that are more restrained and perhaps less proactive. Although we’re only six months into our jobs, we’re hoping that we’ll gradually be able to convince many more tech companies to have those conversations with global governments, including Denmark, by showing them the added value. For example, we do have a voice in the European Union (EU), and we do have the possibility to also set the right agenda with the EU on data protection issues, anti-trust issues, sustainability issues, and many more issues. The overall goal is to reinvent the relationship between the private sector and the public sector. It’s going relatively well, but we have a lot of work to do and we’re working quite hard to achieve it.
Q: What is “Denmark’s TechPlomacy Initiative” and what does it consist of?
Casper: TechPlomacy is basically the initiative that has helped to establish and appoint the Denmark Tech Ambassadorship and to set the global team in place. There is a disruptive dimension to it forcing us to rethink a little about how traditional diplomacy is carried out – not to replace it, but to supplement it. What we are doing, of course, is trying to work with other capitals, countries, and international organizations to help them understand that diplomacy and technology and digitalization are not contradictory terms, but rather things that we must be integrated. TechPlomacy is essentially our life right now!
Q: Haha, that’s awesome! Is there anything you’d like to share with the audience that I haven’t asked?
Casper: I think there is one question you haven’t asked that is super important of our agenda, which has to do with values and the Transatlantic relationship. I think that sitting in the US and looking at a world where there is a lot of turmoil and uncertainty, it is very important that we remember the very close historical ties between the US and Europe. We might not be in complete agreement on the role of tech companies in specific areas or on the role of international organizations on regulations and antitrust, but we have to really remember that that all of us – both sides of the Atlantic! – are still products of the same history and same values: we believe in democracy and human rights. If you look at global developments, including on technology, that realization should hit policymakers and decision makers on both sides and c-level executives in big tech companies. To put it bluntly, we need to stick together because any alternative is quite frightening.
I completely agree with you! Condoleezza Rice expressed the same exact concerns when at the Stanford Economic Policy Summit. Thank you for your time, Casper! I am looking forward to learning more about your work in the future and seeing the fruits of yours and your team’s labors.