The first ambassador to Silicon Valley struggles with 'TechPlomacy'

Denmark's first ambassador to Silicon Valley reflects on his efforts over the past 18 months to engage Silicon Valley tech companies in a new form of diplomacy.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Casper Klynge made history in mid-2017 as the first ambassador to Silicon Valley. He represents Denmark and has been trying to engage tech companies to discuss serious issues concerning the future of tech and society's role.

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He writes about his experiences on Techonomy's Why Silicon Valley Demands Diplomats.

I am not going to sugarcoat it: After a year and a half on the ground in Silicon Valley and Beijing, we have mixed experiences engaging the global tech industry. Some companies have been enormously interested and open for dialogue from day one. Others have been much more reluctant to engage in uncomfortable political discussions.

Denmark is particularly interested in the role of the big platforms, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and how AI and technologies such as blockchain fit into our modern world. His mission is a positive one. 

Casper Klynge

Casper Klynge, the World's first Tech Ambassador

However, we also cannot be blind to the dark sides of technology, some of which have become increasingly evident over the past year. So, we desperately need a more balanced and human-centered approach that maximizes opportunities for innovation while safeguarding fundamental democratic values and societal institutions. This is only achievable if industry and governments work much closer together.

Despite very little access to the US tech giants over period that saw major criticism of tech firms in the US and Europe, Klynge said the "TechPlomacy" initiative has done well by the terms of its own internal key performance indicators (KPIs), which included the appearance of copycats. Germany, France, and Slovakia also appointed digital ambassadors. And the UN and EU have raised the importance of technology in global peace and human rights initiatives that he seems to credit to his diplomatic mission.

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Klynge also seems to associate himself to efforts by tech companies campaigning for greater privacy, and he says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella understands the issues facing countries in this quote from October 2017:

"It cannot be left to the CEOs of tech companies arbitrating the policies for the world. It's a strange position to put four or five of us in. Nobody elected us."

Klynge has certainly picked up all the local jargon of Silicon Valley. He ends his column:

That's our (not quite 90 seconds) elevator pitch. Will it unlock a Series A round for TechPlomacy? Probably not. But from our side, we'll continue to invest heavily in the dialogue with industry and other governments - in Silicon Valley and globally - to make sure we get technology right.

Foremski's Take

I sympathize with Casper Klynge and his team -- it must be a tough job being an ambassador to a region that has little to none self-interest. Silicon Valley doesn't really exist; it has no signposts or a visitors bureau. 

Silicon Valley tech companies are largely oblivious to the problems of their local communities, let alone far-off nation states. That might eventually change, but culture changes exceedingly slowly even in the fast changing tech world.

Klynge and his fellow emissaries to Silicon Valley will continue to struggle fulfilling a fraction of their mission. 

Their efforts are well intentioned and totally necessary, but there are no mechanisms to involve tech industry leaders in discussions that require them to have a good understanding of society and its role. The TechPlomats would need to combine efforts and create a compelling public platform for dialogue -- or find some other way to hold their feet to the fire. Otherwise, they will be ignored.

Silicon Valley companies want technologies to find their natural economic level in society -- without any hindrance from governments. And so there's nothing to discuss with ambassadors who "just don't get it."

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