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12th Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

18 December 2017
12th Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Opening Remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
12th Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)
Monday, 18 December 2017, at 15:00
Assembly Hall, Palais des Nations

Your Excellency, Madam President,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Palais des Nations today and to share some brief thoughts at the outset of this year’s meeting of the Internet Governance Forum.

But before I do so, let me first express our gratitude to the Government of Switzerland for hosting this year’s IGF in Geneva, which really is the natural home for Internet Governance.

It is the home of key actors in the digital space – from CERN, the inventor of the World Wide Web, to the International Telecommunications Union. Its diverse ecosystem and pioneering mind-set make Geneva the place where digital innovation is fostered; where digital policies are debated; and where global implementation is agreed.

Today, over three and half billion people connect to the internet through more than eight billion devices.

A hypothetical visitor from the past would wonder about many things in our world today, but probably nothing would take the visitor’s breath away quite as much as browsing the internet.

It has compressed time and space, allowing you to speak, chat or even see your friend in Lagos while you sit in a café in Milan.
It can deliver the entirety of human knowledge on a single hand-held device. The answer to the question of who was the King of England in 1620 or how to make guacamole are literally seconds away.

But for all its wonders, the internet – and technological progress more generally – has also produced serious challenges we have only just begun to focus on:
̶ Technology has equipped some governments with the means for surveillance of almost anyone, anywhere, at any time.
̶ Technology has given some private IT companies so much power, they can even influence election outcomes. They collect so much data about you and me, they may even know more about us than we do ourselves.
̶ Technology has increased the risk of conflict as a new arms race is gaining speed in weaponized robotics and artificial intelligence. Cyberspace is a new battlefield – co-equal with combat on land, sea or air. Algorithms can be as powerful as tanks; bots as destructive as bombs.
̶ Technology has strained societies’ cohesion as it shifts the distribution of income from labour to capital. Automation creates new opportunities, but threatens to make almost half of all existing jobs redundant. How can we train the millions of jobless people so that they acquire the necessary qualifications for the new jobs?

Taken together, yesterday’s optimism has given way to today’s trust deficit. To safeguard the good and tame the bad of tomorrow’s technologies, we are faced with an urgent governance challenge.

This governance challenge will hardly be solved through traditional forms of regulation, although they certainly have a role to play.

But the pace and scale of technological innovation is so swift and so broad, traditional regulation as managed by governments or inter-governmental organizations invariably fails to keep up.

Which means that the only way to establish mechanisms of regulation fit for our brave new digital world will have to be different. It will need to be people-centred and inclusive, combining all stakeholders – governments, companies, scientists, civil society, and academia.

All of them are present here, in Geneva, making it the place to develop the regulatory frameworks we need – flexible enough to allow for innovation to prosper; but protective enough to preserve the social cohesion of our societies.

This, in a nutshell, is the ambition and the value of the UN Internet Governance Forum – and your challenge.

I wish you much success.

Thank you.