Responsible innovation requires new workways, and courage

Imagine legislation that was a little more flexible? Not so rigid and difficult to change. Then the regulations would not have to stand in the way of technological development, or would it? The world is facing major societal challenges such as...

Imagine legislation that was a little more flexible? Not so rigid and difficult to change. Then the regulations would not have to stand in the way of technological development, or would it?

The world is facing major societal challenges such as climate change, health and digital transformation. Rapid advances in technology are unleashing innovation in many sectors that could help resolve these challenges. However, this requires more proactive and cross-sectorial public policy development. The Swedish Government has appointed the Committee for Technological Innovation and Ethics (Komet) to accelerate policy development. The committee has a broad mandate to continuously deliver policy proposals. Chair of the committee is Jon Simonsson who below addresses some public governance issues Komet focuses on.

Jon Simonsson, Chair of the Committee for Technological Innovation and Ethics (Komet).

People have said that in the present – the fourth industrial revolution – everything is possible. The ingredients are there – 5G, IoT, AI, drones and self-driving vehicles – as well as advanced knowledge about diagnosis and medication – and they are all rapidly evolving. Only the innovator sets the limitations for how to mix and bake with Technologies.

And right now, when the threat of the corona virus has almost shock-digitized both business and the public sector, the interest in new technology solutions has skyrocketed. Working remotely, moving things without human presence, or – most important – virus vaccines and medical treatment methods, have all become self-evident areas for intensified research and experimentation. But the laws and regulations surrounding these areas were often created for a completely different setting.

Rules are good. And there are usually very good reasons why an area is regulated. Some rules are intended to safeguard democratic rights or individual rights to privacy, others to control developments in a certain direction. The rules are required. Especially at the present when not only development of technology but also the technology uptake in society is accelerating. It takes time to develop laws and regulations, and the process of doing so is not in pace with the rapid development of technology. This creates risks in society. For example, risks related to the individual’s right to privacy, the economy or the environment. At the same time, gaps in regulation may be revealed, gaps that could lead to introduction of new and perhaps not desired solutions.

Would it be possible to find a middle ground and a more future oriented way to work with regulation? With rules that are clear, future-proof and developed with legally safe methods, but encourages and facilitates ethical and sustainable innovation?

Responsible development and use of new technology

The Government wants Sweden to be a leader in the responsible development and use of new technologies. The Swedish Committee for Technological Innovation and Ethics (Komet) works with policy development to create good conditions for innovation and competitiveness, while ensuring that development and dissemination of new technology is safe and secure. The Committee helps the Swedish government to proactively address improvements technology could create for citizens, business and society, but also to highlight the conflicting goals that may arise.

This includes raising ethical issues related to the rapid technological development. When almost everything is possible, we need to place particularly high demands on the compass, how we responsibly navigate the technology landscape. Not least during the corona pandemic, when we have seen how ethical boundaries have been moved for the use of surveillance technology.

An important objective of the Komet work is to instil courage in the public sector. Although innovators are often private, at the end of the day, it is the public sector that must enable, be willing to and dare to meet the demands of both business and society. It is the public sector’s role to ensure that the proper regulations are on the table. A balanced and future-oriented regulation which will be required for rapidly creating a sustainable world.

Our work

Komet believes that the public sector should promote testing and experiment, as a fast and more secure way to learn about new technical solutions. We have developed the model below to support the increased need for broad collaborations and testing. We have look at various initiatives that promotes experimental activities for technological innovation around the world. In this work, we have been greatly assisted by the Swedish science and innovation counsellors. We are also in the process of drawing up a proposal to the Government regarding controlled experiments where outcomes for both innovation and regulation can be achieved.

Furthermore, we have conducted surveys identifying needs, from start-ups and public actors. We arrange breakfast seminars on the theme of technological innovation, ethics and integrity. We have an open mailbox to capture problems with rules and regulation. We have proposed new assignments to public agencies. We regularly write articles and knowledge-enhancing reports.

We continuously publish our work on our website, so if you are curious please find further information on www.kometinfo.se, and you may follow us on LinkedIn. We are also interested in tips on accelerated policy development, just contact us on n.komet@regeringskansliet.se.

Komet was launched in 2019. We are halfway through. In the autumn of 2021, it is time to summarize our work. Only time will tell if all regulatory barriers will be resolved by then… or?

Guest blogger Jon Simonsson, Chair of Komet