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The Sydney Dialogue: Playbook

By Fergus Hanson, Danielle Cave and Madeleine Nyst

Major advances in technology have always been disruptive. But when they occur against a backdrop of great power competition, the stable development and deployment of these technologies becomes fraught.

Few have grasped the enormity of the disruption coming our way as more and more new technologies – from increasingly sophisticated surveillance to quantum and biotechnologies – are deployed across the world. While governments grapple with foreseeing the full impacts and setting policy direction, there’s a growing realisation that emerging and critical technologies will be extraordinarily important for societies, economies and national security.

We launched The Sydney Dialogue to support a more stable roll-out of the next wave of transformational technologies. It is a forum allowing for frank debate about the rapidly changing strategic landscape, and a space for governments, business and civil society to come together to focus on solutions, cooperation and policy options.

The Sydney Dialogue came about because we saw big gaps in forums on technology, especially in the Indo-Pacific. There were industry events that showcased the latest technical advances and products, but they tended to eschew policy debates, and did not encompass government and civil society. There were important government multilateral discussion and policymaking forums, but these usually lagged well behind technological advances, and because they were primarily for governments, key global players – including those making the technology – weren’t part of the discussion. And there were excellent civil society initiatives, but these often focused on individual topics that were only one piece of a larger puzzle. Few of these initiatives focused on or resonated in the Indo-Pacific – the region that incubates much of the world’s technological innovation and has become a hotbed of strategic technological competition.

These gaps drove us towards a dynamic where all the key actors were speaking past one another, while rarely all being in the same room. Tech companies are developing and deploying products that are revolutionary and hugely disruptive. A decade later, governments are scrambling to retrospectively legislate to address issues they did not foresee, and civil society is critiquing from the sidelines.

Right now, three major problems must be addressed to ensure the stable development of advanced technologies.

First, there’s the large lag between the deployment of new technologies and regulation governing them. With social media, this lag was about a decade. As we’ve seen, this doesn’t lead to good outcomes for individuals, or for societies.

Second, there’s a delay between states’ use of new technologies and their consideration of the ethical questions raised by its use. Examples of this can be seen in the global surveillance industry, which has allowed its products to support some of the most egregious human rights abuses of our times.

Third, a tense relationship between governments and technology companies is playing out around the world. The negative dynamic that has taken hold is hindering progress and genuine cooperation, leaving democracies at risk of being left behind.

The Sydney Dialogue seeks to fill a gap and contribute towards these big challenges. By bringing world leaders, tech company CEOs and the world’s top civil society voices together for an annual dialogue, we hope the roll-out of the next wave of revolutionary technologies over the coming decade can be better managed.

This collection of striking essays from some of the world’s top strategic thinkers from across business, government and civil society is a fitting way to start this dialogue. It explores timely debates at the forefront of technology and examines points of crisis and tension in the nexus of society, government and technology. Crucially, it offers innovative ideas to solve these challenges and bring about a brighter, fairer Indo-Pacific.

The following pieces bring us all a much-needed dose of optimism and show that in many cases, the solutions already exist – we just need to work together to bring them to life.

Read the Playbook: Online