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Ilves: Europe’s digital development is falling behind

President Toomas Hendrik Ilves at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland
President Toomas Hendrik Ilves at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland Source: (Office of the President)

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves urged the European Union and its member states to contribute towards a digital future.

The President expressed concern over the Union’s lagging behind in the digital economy. Unless the European Union made an effort to catch up with other countries, Europe would become “a museum for the United States, India and China,” Ilves warned in the panel discussion moderated by the secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union, Houlin Zhao.

Discussing internet accessibility and future technologies, Ilves referred to the World Bank's newly published Development Report, the advisory panel for which he co-chaired. The extensive report highlights Estonia as a positive example of how various technical solutions can support economic and social development.

Ilves pointed out that the World Bank report draws a conclusion similar to the Estonian experience, which has shown that a trustworthy legal system and public sector, along with legislation that supports enterprise and innovation, are necessary prerequisites for the kind of digital development both society and the economy profit from.

The report also concludes that easy access to information is the key to economic development. “Gutenberg’s printing press ushered in a new information era. Tim Berners-Lee can be regarded as the modern-day Gutenberg, as the web he invented can be considered the start of a new information era in both developing and developed countries,” Ilves said.

In order to reap the benefits of the digital era, people need to acquire new skills, as a digital economy cannot develop without skilled and smart users. According to Ilves, everything starts with school, where the key is to rethink and reshape education.

The president also joined influential academics and business leaders in a discussion on how future technologies will influence our lives 15 years from now. Among the topics covered were asteroid mining, genetically modified babies, self-driving cars and the related ethical dilemmas. The consensus was that new technologies always come with some inconvenience, but that history shows that the progress of technology cannot be stopped, and that when all is said and done mankind still benefits from each technological revolution.

President Ilves was a member of the advisory panel of this year’s World Bank Development report. The report talks about the global spread of digital technologies. At its core is the realisation that while technologies are spreading ever faster, their broader benefits aren’t accessible to all. To make sure that as many people as possible profit from these still developing technologies, change is needed in a wide range of fields, from education right down to the reproduction of successes like India’s digital identification project, which helped reduce corruption by several billion dollars. The report suggests that countries should come up with their own digital development strategies.

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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