A LATAM-EU digital alliance to enhance connectivity and inclusion
At this point in time, nobody can doubt that the distribution of world power will play out on the digital stage. We have entered a new era, where coal and steel have been, or are being, left behind. The control of networks, data and infrastructure will determine who are the most powerful players on Earth. The Industrial Revolution is officially dead.
In this new scenario, two large blocs will compete to lead the various technologies that will define our future. For example, China has already taken the lead when it comes to 5G, commercial drones and batteries for electric cars, while the United States has the upper hand in synthetic biology, the biopharmaceutical industry, fusion energy and quantum computing.
The technology that may be most decisive in our future is artificial intelligence. AI remains up for grabs, along with semiconductors and next-generation networks. So far, there is no clear winner, although this depends on the point of view of differing reports. The report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) last March tilted the balance significantly more toward China. According to this analysis, the Asian country leads in 37 of the 44 critical and emerging technologies at the time of writing.
Even with competition between China and the United States, Europe’s role in the digital revolution is unquestionable. While its role may be small, by no means is it nonexistent. The EU is the uncontested leader in digital regulation. We are the mirror into which the world looks when it comes to safeguarding our rights and freedoms in our new reality.
The EU is the uncontested leader in digital regulation. We are the mirror into which the world looks when it comes to safeguarding our rights and freedoms in our new reality
This may seem minor when you look at the image (which, as everyone knows, is worth a thousand words), but that is not the case. Leading a cross-cutting and strategic area can provide the European Union with a competitive advantage when it comes to expanding its model beyond EU borders, particularly in Latin America.
Latin American countries tend to favor digitalization based on rights that safeguard democratic principles and values, leaning toward the European model of technological development and regulation. In other words, these countries are socially closer to European ways of thinking and acting than other parts of the world.
This presents a competitive advantage in a landscape where ethics are increasingly relevant, especially given the fear provoked by the emergence of generative artificial intelligence. ChatGPT has global alarm bells ringing, having been developed in record time and without legal controls, something that scares many people.
While ethics is already an important consideration for all human activity, its importance has skyrocketed in recent months with the irruption of often poorly understood technologies
Regulating artificial intelligence tools without simultaneously curbing their development is a universal legislative challenge. But while China and the USA are distracted by their own technological battle, Brussels refuses to shy away from pursuing ethical legislation to protect citizens.
This is the same attitude shared by many Latin American countries, which are enforcing laws inspired by the 2016 EU Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Several countries in the region are pioneering other areas of digital rights and leading the development of ethical and responsible artificial intelligence.
The importance of ethics
While ethics is already an important consideration for all human activity, its importance has skyrocketed in recent months with the irruption of often poorly understood technologies. As part of her inaugural speech at the Spanish Royal Language Academy, Asunción Pérez-Gómez, professor of Artificial Intelligence, warned that this technology “can go beyond what is strictly considered ethically and legally acceptable,” and urged the approval of European regulations on artificial intelligence.
There is political will to do so. This is the central argument in support of the EU’s appeal. Despite not being a leader in technology or research, it is in values and principles, and therefore, regulation. The EU’s partnership with Latin America, a region with shared values and vision, is practically inevitable.
Last March, the European Union-Latin America and the Caribbean Digital Alliance was launched, a joint initiative to defend a digital transformation with humanity at the center. It is structured around an initial contribution by Team Europe of 145 million euros, with 50 million euros taken from the EU budget, allocated to promoting digital cooperation between the two regions.
The aim of the Alliance is to promote the development of secure and resilient digital infrastructure, structured around a value-based framework, that ensures a democratic and transparent environment while placing special emphasis on privacy and digital rights.
Strengthening the EU’s ties with Latin America has always been urgent, however in an extremely competitive digital landscape has made this even more urgent
While this is a remarkable initiative, it may not go far enough. The digital divide in Latin America is the largest in the world, and the remedy will require long-term collaboration, which must be promoted during the Spanish Presidency of the European Union. Many Member States are still unaware of the strategic importance of Latin America, a region in which China has stepped up its investments tenfold in recent years.
To this end, it is essential to create a global strategy for the region that includes diplomatic, economic and security instruments. The main goal of this exercise should be to ensure that Latin American countries, which experience major connectivity issues and digital divides, can receive funding from the Global Gateway.
Strengthening the EU’s ties with Latin America has always been urgent, however in an extremely competitive digital landscape has made this even more urgent. Particularly as the Alliance aims to improve connectivity and guarantee inclusion in a legislative area where Europe is a world leader. Now is the time to take advantage.