Focused commitments on digitalisation lead to better outcomes, finds Meredith Williams, lead researcher on digital innovation, G7 Research Group, as she calls for a clear agenda to achieve secure digital transformation worldwide
The G7 summit has addressed the digital divide and global digital opportunities regularly since 1978. It has addressed digitalisation more consistently since 2011, when French president Nicolas Sarkozy hosted a ‘Digital 20’. This resulted in a dedicated section in the G7 communiqué that year.
The focus grew to include digitalisation and artificial intelligence in 2018 and regulation of the digital economy in 2019. As 2020 host, the United States can build on those discussions to include the taxation of digital companies.
From 1975 to 2019, the annual G7 summit dedicated 17,587 words to information and communications technologies and digitalisation, averaging 6% of its communiqués per summit. The first reference came in 1978 on stimulating technology transfer. Between 1978 and 1999, the percentage ranged from zero to 13% in 1985. In 2000, the G7 dedicated a record 22% of its words to this area.
Attention to digitalisation subsequently ranged from zero to 3% in 2011. In 2013, the G7 acknowledged that the digital economy was a growing concern, dedicating 19% of its communiqué words to open data and access to data. The 2014 summit dedicated 10% to digitalisation, followed by 22% in 2015, 9% in 2016, 6% in 2017 and 10% in 2018.
The 2019 summit produced a stand-alone document on digitalisation, which raised the G7’s digital governance to 2,046 words, or 28% of the total.
From 1975 to 2019, the G7 made 133 collective, politically binding, future-oriented commitments on ICT and digitalisation, or 0.2% of the total 5,525 commitments, as identified by the G7 Research Group. The first commitment was made in 1983, on trade in services and high-technology products. The next appeared in 1991, on the diffusion of advances in science and technology. The 1992 and 1994 summits each had one commitment. G7 leaders then produced between one and six digitalisation commitments in 1996, from 1998 to 2003, and in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011. In 2013, they made 18 commitments on open data and access to data. At the 2016 and 2018 summits, the number rose to 23 each, the highest to date. They focused on the digital divide, cybersecurity and the role of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The focus shifted in 2018 to the gender digital divide and artificial intelligence. In 2019, there were 22 digitalisation commitments.
The G7 Research Group has assessed 16 of the 111 ICT and digitalisation commitments for compliance by G7 members. Compliance averaged 71%, a little lower than the G7’s all-subject average of 76%. The highest compliance, of 100%, came from two commitments from 2000. Commitments made in 1996 had 67% compliance. Commitments made in 2006, 2007 and 2009 had the lowest compliance at 33% each. One commitment in 2008 and one in 2011 had 78% each. Another in 2009 had the second lowest score at 63%. The 2013 commitment had 67%. Commitments made in 2016 and 2017 each had 88%. Overall, compliance fluctuated, but recently rose.
Although the G7 complied substantially with its digitalisation commitments, there is room for significant and rapid improvement, given global changes regarding digital health, the internet, cybersecurity, AI, data protection, media and even the democratic process. The G7 struggles to focus on core digitalisation issues or to produce a clear agenda for enforcing the ‘secure digital transformation’. When G7 leaders made narrow, specific digitalisation commitments, compliance scores were much higher, as in 2000 and 2016.
To improve compliance, G7 leaders should consider the following actions:
First, leaders should make very focused commitments on digitalisation. The highest complying summits produced commitments with specific targets, compared with the lowest complying summits with broad commitments.
Second, there should be a pre-summit meeting of ministers responsible for the digital economy to focus on issues including AI, data protection and data governance, and digital taxation. When such meetings took place, the G7 leaders produced more digitalisation conclusions and commitments.
Third, the G7 should address innovation, digital capabilities, and research and development resources relating to digital health, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The G7 should work with innovative technology companies to leverage resources and data processing in the collective fight against the virus.
Fourth, G7 leaders should invite the heads of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple to their summit to help address open data policies and data sharing, and to create transparency on emerging issues. The G7 leaders’ discussions on data privacy produced poor compliance results, likely due to their lack of understanding of the effects that releasing data has on innovation. G7 leaders should bridge the digital divide by continuing the dialogue on the 2015 International Open Data Charter.