Tech giants, small international locations, and the way forward for techplomacy

Two years in the past, Casper Kylnge, an skilled Danish diplomat with a background in disaster administration in locations like Afghanistan, turned the primary nation-state ambassador to Silicon Valley. It’s his job to talk with Amazon, Fb, Google, and Microsoft within the U.S. and with corporations like Alibaba and Baidu in China, and to deal with these companies as in the event that they had been international superpower nation-states.
“We needed to construct a brand new crew, we needed to set up our personal insurance policies, we needed to learn how to penetrate the tech corporations in a manner [that] you possibly can have a strategic political dialogue. I feel this type of strategy to disaster administration or discovering methods in chaos will not be essentially a foul factor to have within the backpack when doing this type of job,” Klynge informed VentureBeat in a telephone interview.
Elements of his job description are fairly old fashioned, corresponding to speaking with different international locations and relaying necessary info again to decision-makers in Denmark, however different features, like forging relationships inside main tech corporations, are much less acquainted. It’s a distinction Kylnge mentioned he encountered on his first journey to Google headquarters, when he and his deputy wore fits with no ties to be informal, solely to satisfy with a Google worker in shorts, flip-flops, and an previous Metallica T-shirt.
Denmark’s purpose is to position ambassadors at “epicenters of transformation world wide” to raised perceive the affect of tech on Danish society and easy methods to put together for an more and more digital world. The initiative can also be supposed to assist signify Danish views on quite a lot of points that affect the nation’s nationwide safety pursuits, from cybersecurity to terrorism to the methods tech platforms have undermined democracy in recent times.
Klynge spoke with VentureBeat lately to debate the evolving definition of “techplomacy,” why he thinks different nations ought to dispatch ambassadors to Silicon Valley, and the way small nations should band collectively to face up to highly effective corporations like Fb and Google.
This interview has been edited for brevity and readability.
VentureBeat: I noticed within the New York Occasions piece that your job is to deal with these tech giants like superpowers. Why?
Klynge: Yeah, precisely. If you happen to ask a type of rhetorical query on who has the largest affect on our society or us as people, I feel at present it’s nearly a no brainer that the large corporations, whether or not it’s Google or Fb or Microsoft or among the Chinese language corporations like Tencent, Baidu, Alibaba — nicely the affect on my life is definitely lots greater in some ways than what nation X would possibly have an effect on us. In order that’s additionally the brand new digital actuality should you like, a brand new actuality round worldwide relations. What we attempt to do is acknowledge that and search to affect what is going on.
VentureBeat: I feel that’s one thing that interprets in journalism as nicely, in tech journalism. As any individual who covers coverage very often, I subscribe to the concept that if these corporations amass cash and affect on par with nation-states, then we should always cowl them as such and be a bit extra scrutinizing in our protection wherever potential. However how does that translate to your job? I imply, does treating a enterprise like a nation-state carry different penalties past dispatching an Ambassador?
Klynge: Effectively, I feel what it does is it type of recalibrates how we take a look at the corporate. So one of many issues I hear when speaking to journalists or different international locations is there’s nothing new about huge multinational corporations having an affect.
For my part, what’s totally different versus [others is] these corporations transcend every little thing, you understand, it’s a search engine, nevertheless it’s additionally an autonomous car firm. You harvest knowledge on so many alternative ranges that the affect is for my part unprecedented, so what this suggests is that we have to change our mindset on how we take a look at them. I imply I feel the honeymoon is over.
We can’t take a look at them anymore as being impartial platforms which can be simply impartial purveyors of no matter individuals need to do. I feel we now have to deal with them in a extra mature and accountable manner, which additionally signifies that we’re much less naive, we’re extra balanced, and in addition making calls for holding them accountable. So I feel, you understand, my position and my job is only a symptom of one thing extra systematic that we try to do to get a extra balanced, practical view on know-how corporations and know-how per se.
VentureBeat: You’ve been doing this for about two years, is that proper?
Klynge: Yeah.
VentureBeat: What’s modified in Silicon Valley because you began this job?
Klynge: Ah not sufficient haha, however joking apart, I feel there was a level of change, principally brought on by among the scandals and discussions. We’ve seen potential meddling in elections, we’ve seen huge cyber assaults. We’ve additionally seen, in fact, issues like Cambridge Analytica, and large leaks of private knowledge. And I feel that’s been helpful within the sense that it modified the general public notion in a extra practical manner, however I feel it’s additionally impacted some executives within the huge tech corporations and in addition among the buyers and VCs in order that the phrase governance or the phrase regulation trigger much less nausea at present than they did two years in the past for my part. What I imply by that’s that at present there may be an understanding that the businesses additionally must take duty.
And we’re not the place we should be. Let me put that on the market very clearly. I can inform you some fairly mind-blowing experiences from the primary two years on this job, however there’s a little little bit of constructive optimism within the sense that I do suppose that on a worldwide stage, we’re starting to recalibrate how we take a look at know-how and the tech corporations, and I feel that’s useful and helpful, however with out exterior stress from governments, from media like your self from civil society, and maybe additionally from staff, I feel we gained’t win this battle. I feel exterior pressures is what finally will make the businesses and the executives do issues in a extra mature manner.
VentureBeat: How do you suppose small international locations ought to strategy techplomacy otherwise than bigger nations?
Klynge: I feel we now have just a few benefits after which just a few challenges of being such a small nation. I feel one of many benefits is that we’re pretty small, so it’s maybe simpler for us to experiment with a diplomatic illustration in a manner that no different nation has achieved up to now, I feel what we now have going for us is also being probably the most linked international locations on the earth. No one can accuse us of technophobia or being reluctant to embrace new applied sciences, as a result of we now have a inhabitants that’s very ahead pondering, however the fundamental problem or strategy to international coverage points if you find yourself small like Denmark is you need to construct alliances and coalitions. It’s important to multilateralize what you do, in order that’s what we’re making an attempt to do right here as nicely.
We understand that we’ll by no means win the combat with the large tech corporations, so we want extra international locations across the desk, however we additionally want extra corporations across the desk which can be assuming this duty. In order that’s type of the KPI for what I do and what my crew is doing — to get extra stakeholders across the desk and proceed having a few of these not-always-very-easy conversations in order that we deal with this space in the way in which that I imagine firmly is completely essential.
VentureBeat: Are you suggesting that different nations must also create ambassadors to Silicon Valley, as Denmark has achieved?
Klynge: Completely, and it’s not solely as a result of I’m very lonely. It’s additionally as a result of it takes that understanding that this isn’t on the borderline for international coverage or one thing a bit unusual. That is central to every little thing we do, whether or not it’s safety coverage or growth help, or in our case European Union affairs. Know-how is so basic for every little thing, so I feel it’s a really pure step that international locations will deal with this in a manner in accordance with actuality. And once more, I feel smaller international locations or smaller economies like ours even have extra at stake within the digital age, and due to this fact I feel that it’s solely pure that we’ll see extra international locations do that.
VentureBeat: To that time of multilateralism: Have you ever had talks with smaller nations to band collectively to power tech giants to handle sure subject?
Klynge: Completely, and naturally we now have the benefit of being a part of the European Union. So a few of that’s occurring on the European Union stage, however what we spend a variety of time doing is constructing international coalitions — as a result of Europe is necessary, however we additionally have to know the Koreas, the Japans, the Indias, the Ghanas, the Mexicos of this world to additionally take a look at points in a extra systematic manner.
There’s a particular European context which is necessary, however should you take a look at type of [the] digital divide and the shortcoming to reap the advantages of the digital age, you might have actual causes for potential battle or migration. So we additionally want a worldwide view on what know-how is doing, each from a constructive or good viewpoint, but additionally when it comes to focusing extra on challenges.
VentureBeat: Just a few weeks in the past, Jeff Bezos beneficial what facial recognition laws ought to appear like, after which I used to be studying by means of Google’s SVP of world affairs Kent Walker gave a speech in Dublin final month, and it had a collection of suggestions on what sensible regulation ought to appear like.  
What are your ideas on tech corporations of this measurement laying out publicly what they suppose regulation ought to appear like? I think about it seems a bit totally different to a smaller nation than a bigger one, extra of a push than a suggestion.
Klynge: Yeah, however simply to take the constructive aspect first, I feel it’s truly a constructive step that at present the businesses are starting to return ahead with their proposals on easy methods to regulate themselves. If we had this dialog two years in the past, I feel you’ll have had difficulties pointing at examples the place the businesses have themselves taking the steps to attempt to start discussing easy methods to regulate AI or facial recognition techniques, and many others. So I feel that’s a constructive step.
Now, whether or not a few of that is window dressing or achieved from a technical viewpoint, I feel the jury’s nonetheless out on that one, and I’m certain it’s a mixture of the entire above. What I’d say, and that’s a cardinal level for us, you understand it’s nice that you’ve got Kent Walker or Zuckerberg advocating for extra regulation, however the basic requirement to do sensible regulation is transparency. Whether or not you’re a small nation like Denmark otherwise you’re the European Union or the U.S. authorities, this can be very tough to control until you might have a sure diploma of perception into the know-how or platform or no matter we’re speaking about.
So for my part, the subsequent battle might be about growing transparency, and by that I don’t imply that we need to open algorithms the place we are able to go in and see how they construct it. I don’t suppose that’s essential, however we have to construct in checks and balances and mechanisms that may be sure that regulators or lawmakers or policymakers will perceive sufficient of how the techniques work with a view to regulate in a sensible manner. And to be sincere with you, I feel it is a win-win. I feel it must be within the curiosity of the businesses additionally to be extra forward-leaning in offering sufficient transparency for us to do that in a great way. I feel dangerous regulation is dangerous not just for international locations or residents. It’s additionally dangerous for the businesses who will finally maybe be much less commercially profitable.
VentureBeat: Do you suppose that might type of reshape the concept of diplomacy being completely between nation-states? 
Klynge: I feel it is going to complement it, as a result of we’re not appearing to type of disregard conventional diplomacy, there’ll nonetheless be embassies between capitals, however I feel it’s a fully essential complement that may assist concentrate on know-how in a manner which isn’t there proper now.
VentureBeat: I wrote an article lately in regards to the European AI ecosystem after TechBBQ convention in Copenhagen, and there was a variety of opinions on the topic. However I wished to ask you when you have any ideas on that notion of how the European AI ecosystem can meet up with the rising ecosystems in China and america?
Klynge: I’m not an professional on this, however my sense is that once you take a look at Europe and what’s occurring on AI and machine studying, it’s not dangerous in any respect — you might have a variety of tremendous fascinating startups, you might have a variety of entrepreneurs and knowledge scientists doing nice issues in AI.
I feel the large drawback or the large problem for Europe is we aren’t scaling these corporations. In order quickly as they grow to be enticing, they’re sometimes acquired by one of many huge tech corporations, be it American [or] European, but additionally Asian and Chinese language corporations. So I feel that’s the large query mark: How will we create an AI setting in Europe the place we are able to additionally scale and construct the subsequent technology of unicorns, and I feel that’s necessary, from a know-how viewpoint, nevertheless it’s additionally necessary from an financial progress or job creation viewpoint.
I feel there may be in fact an enormous query mark should you take a look at this from a geopolitical viewpoint. You realize, others have mentioned that we’re transferring from the age of innovation into the age of implementation on AI, and right here in fact entry to the rocket gasoline of those techniques — specifically knowledge — goes to be fairly essential. And it goes with out saying that in Europe, we now have a really shopper protection-oriented strategy with a variety of rights on particular person knowledge, which doesn’t essentially exist within the U.S., and positively not in China. So I feel, from a world viewpoint, I feel the large query mark is will it give China a aggressive edge, as a result of they principally have limitless entry to knowledge which doubtlessly may assist them construct rather more refined AI techniques, rather more superior techniques, that on a worldwide stage will type of sweep the market.
I feel that’s one thing we now have to concentrate to as Europeans. I feel it’s additionally one thing we now have to concentrate to from a transatlantic viewpoint, as a result of the strategy to know-how could be very totally different in China than it’s in Europe and the U.S., and the deduction of all of that’s that I feel is we have to work very intently collectively between the U.S. and Europe.
VentureBeat: How is the work that your crew does in China totally different than the work that you simply do in Silicon Valley?
Klynge: I feel the similarity is that we now have conversations with Chinese language authorities and conversations with Chinese language corporations. So I’m leaving Sunday to go to China on my subsequent journey. And so we now have a mixture of chatting with the authorities. After which we meet with quite a lot of totally different corporations — assembly Tencent subsequent week, a few corporations on blockchain, a few corporations on well being care, and many others. It goes with out saying that we additionally look into the appliance of know-how in China. And what I feel is necessary is that the times of simply copying what occurs within the U.S. and Europe, I feel these days are over, and they’d be very naive to not take a look at China as an innovation hub. Definitely what I’ve seen on earlier journeys and visits has been very spectacular.
However it’s also true that there are issues that we must be preoccupied with, and primarily additionally involved about. You realize, the social credit score system is an efficient instance. I feel facial recognition techniques is one thing we have to pay extra consideration to, and also you don’t must look additional away than what is going on in Hong Kong proper now to see that these applied sciences have a improbable potential. However they actually even have the potential for being misused for management and surveillance.
However having ears and eyes on the bottom, even when we disagree with the Chinese language authorities, that’s what diplomacy has at all times been about. We don’t agree with the federal government in a variety of the international locations the place we now have a presence with an embassy. So China by means of the prism of know-how, I feel, reveals various issues, each in spectacular constructive manner — but additionally issues that we should always take note of from a value-driven or democratic stage.
VentureBeat: Do you’re feeling that, given most of those tech giants are situated in america, that the U.S. will be thought of extra of an oligarchy than a democracy?
Klynge: No, I wouldn’t say that, however what I’ll say is I feel among the corporations have type of lulled themselves into believing that they had been above governments and above the values of the techniques we now have in place, and I feel that honeymoon is unquestionably over. So I feel after I speak to corporations about it, I feel that any mission assertion of an organization in North America or in Europe, the mission assertion’s first level must be we’re pro-democracy or pro-human rights, and if I feel accountability, and the necessity for us to demand extra from these corporations is acute.
I don’t suppose they’re intentionally making an attempt to undermine democracy or to combat human rights, however I feel a few of their applied sciences or their platforms have been concerned in one thing that has put at jeopardy our lifestyle, they usually’re a product of Western values, and due to this fact, in addition they must be accountable for defending the varied values.

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