As a career diplomat for the Kingdom of Denmark, Casper Klynge was previously stationed in Indonesia. Now, with a team distributed between Copenhagen, Silicon Valley and Beijing, China, he spearheads a diplomatic mission to technology companies, some of whose gross incomes rival those of his entire country. He is the world’s first official ambassador to the tech sector.
Representing a nation state in dialogue with companies instead of countries requires new thinking. “It’s an embassy startup,” he says. “We don’t have the same common understanding on both sides of what an embassy is about and what an ambassador is supposed to be doing. In some ways we’re inventing a new vocabulary in order to better understand each other. But there are also similarities which should not be overlooked.”
One similarity is the fundamental task of the ambassador to confer the opinions of the Danish authorities. “If one of our ministries has an issue or wants us to raise points with a specific company, we do that. This is very similar to what you would do as an ambassador to a country,” he says.
“Some of the private sector tech companies are getting so big and powerful that they are exercising an influence on global affairs which is very similar to what nation states have done in the past,” says Klynge. “Whether we like it or not, that is the reality.”
Engaging in bilateral relations with companies is part of a strategy to ensure that the Internet remains healthy for society. Fundamentally, Klynge sees the future of the Internet as a path to positive progress, although it is not without elements of risk.
“The Internet is a commodity for good that enables rather than prohibits or reduces opportunities. We’ve seen individual citizen empowerment that is incredibly important. Of course, you can find numerous examples of the misuse of the Internet, be it cybersecurity, online radicalization, ‘fake news’ or election interference. These are critical issues and it is part of our mandate to look at them and to instill upon the private sector a sense of responsibility for reducing the opportunities to use the Internet for malign activities,” he says.
But the diplomatic role of the new Danish representation is not only to establish links between the public and private sectors. Klynge also wants to rethink the relationship between governments, the private sector and civil society.
“You can no longer distinguish these three actors in a traditional way,” he says. “There is a value dimension in technology that is sometimes overlooked, which is ‘How do you make sure that new technology is coherent with democratic values, human rights, inclusiveness, etc.?’ This is where I think civil society has a very important voice.”
Looking to the near future, some of the key technological developments that Klynge’s team is paying close attention to include the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on national labor forces.
“At a country level, we need to consider the massive changes that artificial intelligence will bring. And the link with automation is obvious. Automation is not new, we’ve seen it in previous industrial revolutions. But when you combine it with artificial intelligence it’s a game changer that will have massive impact, not only on a traditional blue-collar workforce but also on white-collar work,” he says, continuing with a smile: “Perhaps, who knows, someday even diplomats will be rendered obsolete?”