Digital Policy Salon: Smart Infrastructure Softening the Pandemic’s Blow
Welcome to the 26th issue of the Digital Policy Salon weekly briefing.
This week, we’re returning to “Smart Cities” to learn about the contributions they can make to a post-COVID world. In policy this week, energy-efficiency and data governance are at the forefront, both important topics for the coming months. Our perspective piece examines telehealth and its rapid acceleration during the pandemic, while an interview from the Technology and Human Rights Series highlights the complexity of AI governance. Finally, our featured research provides an overview of smart city priority areas and labour market readiness based on an assessment of municipalities across Canada.
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Policy Updates 🇨🇦
Academics, civil society groups, and investors are advocating for economic recovery centred around climate change
An independent task force of financial and environmental policy experts has released a report calling on government to invest in energy efficient buildings; jumpstart the production and adoption of zero-emissions vehicles; and grow Canada’s clean energy and clean technology sectors.
The report echoes many of ICTC’s own recommendations: to direct infrastructure and other stimulus spending at green and clean energy production, as well as to support investment in clean energy.
On Monday, an investor group managing $47 trillion in assets targeted 161 of the world’s top polluting companies, which account for about 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The investor group is asking for more action from companies to “get to net-zero” and meet the terms of the 2015 Paris agreement to limit global warming.
Tensions rise internationally over cross-border data flows due to intellectual property, privacy, and national security concerns
The Swiss data protection authority has followed in the footsteps of Europe’s top court, concluding that the Swiss-US Privacy Shield provides Swiss residents an inadequate level of privacy protection. The European Court of Justice struck down the EU-US Privacy Shield earlier this year, in July.
Internet company ByteDance has reportedly reached a deal with a US tech firm just four days away from its government-imposed sales deadline. The US government threatened to ban TikTok in August over national security concerns, unless the company sells its US business by September 20th.
As fall approaches, COVID-19 continues to pose serious health and policy challenges for Canadians. While daily new infections are not as high as during the peak in May, they are up from a low in July. Recent daily new infections are estimated to be in the range of 500–1,000.
With the risk of a strong second wave of infections this fall, potentially stretching medical systems, telehealth provision is a growing critical priority area. Some progress has already been made for enabling remote healthcare provision, but more can be done.
The private sector has also taken steps to facilitate the use of information technology in medical services. On Tuesday, Loblaws, through its subsidiary Shopper’s Drug Mart, signed a $75 million deal to obtain a minority stake in Toronto-based Telemedicine firm Maple. Maple lets Canadians talk to doctors online in under two minutes. Patients can get advice, diagnosis, and treatment within the app, including digital sick notes, and prescriptions that are faxed to a local pharmacy. Telemedicine innovations like this provide Canadians with safer and more cost-effective medical services while minimizing the risk of spreading diseases, including (but not limited to) COVID-19.
Interviews in the Field
In March, ICTC spoke with Dr. Carina Prunkl as part of ICTC’s new Technology and Human Rights Series. Carina Prunkl is a Senior Research Scholar at the Future of Humanity Institute, collaborating with the Centre for the Governance of AI. Her research focuses on the philosophy and ethics of artificial intelligence and its applications to governance and policy considerations. Kiera Schuller, Research & Policy Analyst with ICTC, interviewed Carina about the ethics of AI, and the future of AI governance.
You collaborate with the Center for the Governance of AI on how to most practically implement ethical aspects into current and future governance solutions. As a philosopher, how do ethics come into play in AI governance? What does this look like in practice?
When people think about ethics or moral philosophy, they usually think of people sitting in an armchair and thinking about what is right or wrong. But the main contribution of ethics or philosophy in AI, I think, is not merely about discussing right and wrong, but about systematically thinking through the arising issues, uncovering hidden assumptions, embedding it into the wider context, and flagging ambiguities or inconsistencies. For example, a large number of ethics guidelines/principles related to AI state that we should have “fair” algorithms, that algorithms shouldn’t negatively impact human autonomy, etcetera. But this is not particularly instructive for those developing the algorithm, because fairness is such an elusive concept. What we consider fair differs from context to context and, almost more importantly, people may disagree about whether an act is fair or not. Luckily, philosophers have thought about these issues for a long time and have developed clear distinctions between different conceptions of fairness. It is only when we make these different conceptions explicit that we can start having a discussion about whether an algorithm is fair or unfair.
What We’re Reading
Remote learning can suck. But these students say it’s the best thing that ever happened to them.
While teachers, parents, and experts have voiced concerns over how digital school will impact students’ development, many have pointed out that some students are thriving in the new environment.
I spoke to four students who expressed the surprising joys of digital schooling. These students, at least, are not necessarily thrilled about going back to in-person classes when the pandemic finally allows them to do so.
In ICTC’s own research on the impact of technology on education in Canada, “accessibility, equity, diversity, connectivity, and teacher training and support were recognized as foundational concepts for largescale implementation of technology in the classroom.”
Given this, it’s worth thinking about the ways in which newly digital schools might suit those with different learning needs and styles. Hopefully, whenever things get back to ‘normal,’ we will find that the implementation of technology in education is not just a way to help students, but also a tool to enhance accessibility and equity.
The ways in which the students in this piece articulate their experiences with e-learning suggest that perhaps we’ve not yet had enough opportunities to think critically about how and when e-learning can be most beneficial. ICTC is hoping to help do so, with our forthcoming edtech research. - Khiran O’Neill | email
In Europe, the COVID-19 recovery plan appears to be one of environmental recovery as well. Last year’s European Green Deal committed to climate neutrality by 2050, and the recent COVID-19 recovery plan demonstrates a renewed devotion to the Green Deal. EU green stimulus spending is expected to reach 249 billion USD, compared to just 1.4 billion in China. This stimulus spending also accounts for a significant proportion of the EU’s total stimulus: more than 20%, compared to 1.1% in the United States.
Urban environments are home to over 55% of the world’s population and account for 70% of global GDP. The impact of urbanization on our economy cannot be understated. However, as these spaces continue to be changed by digital disruption, the need to focus on key elements of future sustainability is imminent. Top considerations for our future cities include labour market preparedness, green energy, and infrastructure needs, among others.
These concepts are increasingly gaining centre stage in Canada and around the world, and the global race for smart city development is accelerating, with no sign of slowdown. In fact, investment in “smart” technologies is estimated to have reached $81 billion globally in 2018, and is expected to nearly double to $158 billion by 2022. Growing digital ubiquity and advanced organizational and planning models for cities will continue to drive much of this investment. Many cities around the world are growing and expanding at a rapid rate, and the concept of a “Smart City” is one that is quickly redefining expectations on what it means to be an innovative urban space.
This report highlights ICTC’s Smart City Priority Areas for Canada, covering:
- Smart Government
- Smart Mobility
- Smart Infrastructure
- Smart Environment and Energy
- Smart Health and Well-being
- Smart Regulation
The report also outlines ICTC’s very own Smart City Labour Readiness Index, and its four pillars:
- Pillar One: Education and Skill Levels of Existing Workers
- Pillar Two: Employment and Talent Development
- Pillar Three: Capacity to Tackle Future Employment and Skill Needs
- Pillar Four: Capacity to Foster an Innovative Business Culture
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