More than 100,000 people recently gathered in Paris for Viva Technology, Europe’s rendezvous for startups and leaders to celebrate technology innovation. Viva Technology 2019 had all of the exciting innovations that are shaping our world. New forms of mobility, new applications of AI, unexpected gadgets and countless robots were on display, creating new experiences for people and unleashing new opportunities for commerce and connection.

While much can be said of the technology and potential startup unicorns of the future, what makes Viva Technology standout from other technology conferences was a significant presence of a cohort you don’t necessarily expect to see at these gatherings: politicians.

President Emmanuel Macron, President Justin Trudeau, UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright and former US Secretary of State John Kerry were featured amongst the innovators, developers and founders.

Their presence underscores how much government and technology have become more intertwined than ever before. In fact, politicians are now a critical force as we contemplate future innovation and the impact of technology on society.

For better or worse, we have reached a moment in time where the most urgent and game changing new technologies must intersect society, infrastructure and regulation. This comes into even greater focus when we examine the technology and related issues featured at Viva Technology.

Mobility

According to a recent United Nations study on global urbanization trends, 66 percent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050. The migration of millions of people to urban cores creates a host of challenges. Congestion, land use, environmental issues and economic development, are just some of the issues governments and urban planners are tackling. Ride sharing, the rise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platforms, drones that fly people or goods and autonomous vehicles are just some of the ways technology is contributing to the solution while also creating regulatory complexities. In the case of autonomous cars, for example, the technology is proven and tests show they are safer than human drivers. Yet to scale autonomous vehicles and introduce all the direct and adjacent disruption along with it, will require municipal support.

Data Privacy / Fake & Hate Content

We’ve seen various scenarios of how to approach data privacy from regulation to oversight to capitalist competition. However, most agree that leaving it to the companies themselves to self-regulate is no longer an option. During VivaTech, Trudeau unveiled his plan to make the internet a safer place through a new digital charter being launched in Canada. The charter will dictate how the country will combat hate speech, misinformation and online electoral interference in Canada.

Most of the speakers at Viva Technology emphasized the need for government agencies to weigh in on smart regulation, so countries and technology companies can move forward in a positive, unified direction while also combating system abuse, protecting privacy and restoring trust.

Data Infrastructure

Not only does 5G require new infrastructure to deliver next generation connectivity, it is also an open debate whether digital connectivity is the job of the private or public sector. Macron urged Europe to become a technology leader by “building a tech ecosystem that is compatible with democracy,” while Senator Kerry warned of AI as the potential catalyst for a technological arms race, citing the Chinese government’s desire to be an AI superpower.

If there was one connective thread across all of these politicians’ remarks – as well as those of leading CEOs, CMOs and entrepreneurs featured – it was a pressing need to more responsibly utilize technology to better our world. Whether strengthening our economy, combating global climate change or cultivating a kinder, more respectful society, their mandate was clear and steadfast: we can and must do more.

As Macron said to a panel of Europe’s young entrepreneurs, “be fearless and innovate to change the world.” Indeed an inspiring and challenging directive for entrepreneurs, innovators and marketers to contemplate in our complex and ever-evolving world.

 Author: Bohb Blair, Global Chief Experience Officer, Starcom Worldwide