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As Governments Get More Digital, Trust is Essential

Many countries around the world have been forced by the Covid-19 pandemic to automate government services and reduce physical touchpoints to serve citizens. In 2022, both developed and developing countries will build on this and use blockchain and AI to streamline government operations, reduce bureaucratic bottlenecks and optimise services.

The pandemic has made the power of data and technology to transform governance clear. In 2022, citizens will insist that governments expand this data-driven approach to non-pandemic related activities and develop intuitive and user-friendly technology to provide transparent, decentralised and participatory systems that touch all areas of civic life.

The UK’s Build Back Better strategy, for example, explicitly plans to use “regulation to unlock technologies such as drones and autonomous vehicles [to] deliver sophisticated policymaking that benefits citizens and the economy”. South Africa has this year seen the rapid adoption of intelligent instant-messaging platforms such as GovChat and Grassroot to improve remote government-citizen engagements and meet increasing demands for accountability. In 2022, other governments in Africa and elsewhere will follow suit.

For many countries, this will not be easy, and will require an audit of legacy infrastructure, the expansion of cloud-computing facilities, the retraining of civil servants and a new culture that prioritises accountability and responsibility. It will mean governments having to recruit data scientists and AI and cloud-computing experts to help policy leaders realise the benefits that data-led government can bring. It will also need a new set of norms in the way government is done, including clarity on the ethical use of technology in a way that does not create bias or intrude on citizens’ privacy.

One way developing countries can move in this direction will be to adopt technologies already used in the developed world. AI and machine learning are already used in many areas of civic and commercial life and these are transferable technologies. Countries with weak institutions, for example, will be able to use algorithms developed by the financial-services industry to fight public-sector corruption by spotting suspect patterns.

Blockchain will replace inefficient centralised systems that are subject to breaches with more secure platforms that enable decentralised registers. Estonia has led use of blockchain in its healthcare, property, business and judicial registries. In 2022, other countries in the developed and developing world will use the technology to manage land registrations and election processes, both of which are currently susceptible to manipulation. Governments will also start to use digital identity and smart recognition systems to predict crime and to use intelligent analytics to resolve them. We will also see wider adoption of intelligent voice-response systems in the provision of basic services.

All of this will make governance more efficient, but the biggest benefit will come from the deeper trust citizens have in their governments, as they see services being provided in a more secure, efficient and predictable manner. There are many challenges to overcome before countries can become truly digital and transparent. In 2022, though, all governments will see that digitisation is not only possible but also essential for their citizens to thrive.

Get more expert predictions for the year ahead. The WIRED World in 2022 features intelligence and need-to-know insights sourced from the smartest minds in the WIRED network. Available now on newsstands, as a digital download, or you can order your copy online.

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This article was originally published by WIRED UK

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