The Global Challenges Foundation, since its inception, has worked with leading researchers to compile and share knowledge of risks on a magnitude such that they threaten the existence of more than a billion people. Our mission, however, combines awareness-raising with an effort to identify which model for global governance can better mitigate or – in the best case – eliminate these threats.
In November 2016, the Global Challenges Foundation cast a wide net to find the best ideas for an update to the current global governance system by launching the five million dollar New Shape Prize. In total, we received 2,702 models for improved global cooperation around these issues, coming from 122 countries. The evaluation and assessment of proposals is currently underway, involving more than a hundred leading experts.
Our competition guidelines called for models that could be implemented within the foreseeable future. As such, it is necessary to be on the lookout for technological disruptions that can and will change both the shape of human society and the landscape of global governance and cooperation as we know it. The present report brings together visionaries from around the world to share their perspective on the possibilities and risks associated with those technologies, and their potential impact on global governance.
The development and governance of new technologies currently lie primarily within the tech industry itself. Many of our authors, therefore, come from an industry background. Their perspectives complement those of expert advisors and public servants involved in cutting-edge initiatives harnessing new technologies for better governance, as well as key figures from civil society. For the first time, we are also including a perspective from the arts, featuring a piece from one of China’s most respected science fiction authors.
Technology’s crucial role in driving forward the creation of the UN is undeniable. It was the development of a new technology – the nuclear bomb – that, in many accounts, brought “the good news of damnation”: the insight that humanity had developed the capacity to self-destruct catalysed a collective understanding that global cooperation was necessary in order to achieve existential security.
From railways to aviation and from the first cable laid across the Atlantic to the connected networks of the Internet, technological innovation has made our world considerably smaller. Recent developments in transport and communication have created pathways for empathizing and communicating across borders to a degree which would have seemed utopian seven decades ago, when the UN itself was designed. Technology has brought nations together: research on nuclear fusion has gathered scientists from around the world to develop an energy source which could come to benefit all. Today, renewed incentives to collaborate are likely to stem from what is, perhaps, the most promising technology that our world has ever seen: artificial intelligence, which offers significant hope for unprecedented prosperity, but also poses one of the greatest threats to humanity.
Existing institutions have proven insufficient to tackle the pressing dangers that humanity faces. The most telling example may be the more than twenty years that have passed since the global community announced that climate change was a threat to civilization. In theory, we have been able to combat this threat during all this time – but carbon emissions today are higher than ever.
Stating that the world has changed radically through technological advancements in the last 70 years sounds like a cliché – and yet, our global institutions have changed very little in that time, though many new tools are at our disposal. As we anticipate the outcome from the New Shape Prize, we chose to develop a report where we would examine how those new tools might affect our global institutions – and consider which ones hold the most promise to make our governance systems more effective, preemptive and just.
The compilation of texts presented here is naturally far from exhaustive. We do, however, hope to see more frequent cross-pollination between governance and technology, to better identify both directions for improvements and new challenges to prepare for. The conversation started in this report will come live at the New York Times Climate Tech conference in Silicon Valley and at a broadcasted session in Davos, which will be shared on our website in January. Lastly, we hope that some of the ideas planted here will stimulate new conversation at the New Shape Forum in May 2018.