The power of digitalisation
G20 Issue

The power of digitalisation

This year has taken a huge toll on our economic future. To harness opportunities and address challenges, the G20 Saudi presidency has focused the Digital Economy Task Force on driving human-centric technological innovation to increase inclusiveness and generate equitable progress

The G20’s Digital Economy Task Force began this year with the intent to accelerate multilateral collaboration to advance the shared interests of G20 members and deliver tangible benefits to people around the world, guided by the overarching theme of Saudi Arabia’s presidency: “Realising Opportunities of the 21st Century for All”. The digital economy is central to creating these opportunities and ensuring they are inclusive.

Even before the onset of COVID-19, the DETF faced urgent challenges, including the slow, unequal recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis, the widening digital divide and the evolving skill requirements of future work. They affect millions of people for whom participation in the digital economy represents creating prosperity for themselves, their families and communities. To address these challenges and unleash the vast potential of the digital economy to raise living standards and accelerate societal progress everywhere, with an urgency intensified by the pandemic, the DETF focused on artificial intelligence, cross-border data flows, smart cities, measurement of the digital economy and security in the digital economy.

Designing a digital response

For children lacking internet access, the sudden shift to remote learning was a devastating setback with lifelong implications. For small business owners without e-commerce, the lockdowns effectively ended their livelihood. And for front-line healthcare workers, disrupted medical supply chains and obstacles to exchanging best practices quickly became matters of life and death. Thus, on 30 April we convened our Extraordinary G20 Digital Economy Ministerial Meeting. We agreed on six urgent priorities:

Connectivity: We agreed to work together to maximise inclusive, secure and affordable connectivity in collaboration with the private sector, including ensuring the functioning of networks now indispensable for economic opportunity and societal participation.

Data: We encouraged collaboration on sharing accurate non-personal information to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. When fuelled with large, reliable data, AI has great potential to accelerate pattern recognition and enable evidence-based policymaking.

Research and development: Recognising the role of digital technologies in developing diagnostics, treatments and vaccines, we committed to use all available means, including high-performance computing, to speed progress.

Participation: We agreed to collaborate to leverage digital solutions for individuals and firms to continue participating in the economy, by promoting digital work, digital skills, and the use of remote working and learning tools.

Trust: Given the increased digital vulnerability of individuals, institutions, and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, we agreed to share best practices in responding effectively to malicious cyber activities, preventing disinformation and ensuring reliable crisis communication over digital channels.

We also recognised the particularly challenging conditions for MSMEs, women and young entrepreneurs given persistent digital divides. The Saudi presidency developed Policy Options to Support Digitalization of Business Models during COVID-19 to share practical, replicable examples of how G20 governments are promoting digital tools to strengthen business continuity and resilience during the crisis.

On 1 June, we convened the G20 Dialogue on Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence in Pandemic Response to share practical insights. It clarified policy approaches to applying AI in health and education, including addressing the privacy-transparency challenge of respecting patients’ data while leveraging the data’s full potential to inform AI applications.

Strengthening the foundations of our digital future

Our work culminated on 22 July with our ministerial declaration. We reached consensus on increasingly significant digital policy issues in national competitiveness and security. We were determined to advance the shared interests of our people in a thriving, inclusive and trustworthy digital economy. We achieved agreement in five areas:

Trustworthy AI: We reaffirmed our commitment to promoting a human-centred approach to AI with the development of Examples of National Policies to Advance the G20 AI Principles to help policymakers operationalise the principles, including through guidelines, tools and standards for implementation.

Data free flow with trust and cross-border data flows: Capturing the benefits of greater productivity, innovation and sustainable development requires trusted cross-border data flows. We recognised the importance of sharing experiences and good practices for data policy and strengthening the interface between trade and the digital economy, particularly at the World Trade Organization.

Smart cities: We encouraged the development and deployment of digital technologies for human-centric, environmentally sound, sustainable and inclusive smart cities. We thus welcomed the G20 Smart Mobility Practices to provide guidance and best practices.

Measurement of the digital economy: We welcomed the G20 Roadmap toward a Common Framework for Measuring the Digital Economy. It contributes to closing implementation gaps, especially in developing economies, strengthening indicator comparability and enhancing evidence-based policymaking. We recognised the Saudi presidency’s proposal for defining elements for measurement purposes and the importance of representative indicators related to jobs, skills, digital literacy and growth to monitor the social and economic impacts of the digital economy and ensure no one, including women and girls, is left behind.

Security in the digital economy: We committed to advance security in the digital economy and welcomed the G20 Examples of Practices Related to Security in the Digital Economy, a practical resource for mitigating security and systemic risks. The Saudi presidency also hosted the first G20 Cybersecurity Dialogue, with inclusive, multi-stakeholder discussions on security risks, challenges and opportunities.

Accelerating progress

This year was remarkably productive for the DETF. Responding to the pandemic, we agreed on urgent priorities, developed policy options for increasing resilience and convened the first G20 AI Dialogue on pandemic response. Our ministerial declaration defined paths forward for AI, measurement of the digital economy and smart cities. Security in the digital economy was central to our discussions.

The DETF plays a vital role in ensuring we create a global digital economy worthy of future generations. We have seen this year the extent of polarisation, the depth of the digital divides and their vast human cost. We now see the tremendous urgency to harness the digital economy and technologies as instruments of inclusion. We must learn from the current crisis to accelerate the transition from the fourth industrial revolution to the fifth – the revolution of trust.