Tech companies are now wealthier, and more powerful, than many nation states. Denmark has responded to this trend, appointing a dedicated ambassador to engage with them – just as it would with other countries.
“On an individual basis, certain companies are enormously influential in both positive and negative ways,” Tech Ambassador Casper Klynge believes. This “completely underlined the need for techplomacy’,” he adds.
“These companies are also policy actors, and indeed, foreign policy actors in their own right,” he tells GovInsider, with power over elections, government policies, and vast investments.
Klynge, who was previously the Danish Ambassador to Indonesia, shares his vision with GovInsider on how Denmark will work with the world’s tech giants to address the pressing issues we all face.
Ear on the ground
The new job will have four key roles: building partnerships; shaping tech companies’ opinions; spotting new trends; and overhauling the Foreign Ministry itself.
The partnerships can take many forms, Klynge says. Partly, the government needs advice on areas like cyber security. Equally, it wishes to discuss ethical issues, as startups rapidly grow into behemoths.
Second, Klynge has a mandate “to disagree, to convince, and to express concern”, he says. This is particularly true of one issue: “Data protection or usage is, by all standards, going to be a very critical discussion”.
“Data protection or usage is, by all standards, going to be a very critical discussion”.
By having a finger on the pulse of Silicon Valley, where his office is based, he will be able to identify trends and potential problems sooner, he believes. “Uber is a good example,” he says, because “they came into a market that was unprepared for this disruptive way of operating”. Klynge will provide early intelligence to Danish policymakers.
This also helps with the fourth role, finding ways to overhaul Denmark’s digital diplomacy efforts. Klynge plans to “spearhead the digital technology transformation of the whole of the Danish foreign ministry”, he says, and will build relationships with tech companies to support this.
Denmark has a strong agenda around climate change, and wants to ensure that these companies introduce clean energy and sustainability initiatives. “If you use clean technology for driving very energy-hungry data centres, that’s a good example of how you could team up with some of the big tech companies,” Klynge says.
On a grander scale, tech players can hold great influence in the fight against international terrorism, he says. “What we’re also seeing lately is some of the big companies are voluntarily coming forward, saying: ‘We are interested in the dialogue on how we can help prevent terrorist organisations or radical groups from putting their ideas online’.” The same can also be said for countering fake news, he adds.
At the same time, Klynge hopes to boost Denmark’s tech ecosystem. The country is already a digitally-advanced nation, “but there’s no time for complacency”, he believes. “We need to adapt.”
He hopes to promote the European nation as having the right talent for the next wave of tech development, and encourage startups to come set up shop in Denmark. Fintech and healthcare are two other areas that the Danish startup community is “very much trying to tap into”, he adds.
This is the first the world has seen of a country having “a structured organised interaction directly with these companies”, and Klynge acknowledges that these are “uncharted waters” for him and the tech embassy.
But the office won’t just boost Denmark itself, he believes. There is also great potential for new technology to support development in emerging economies. For example, in Indonesia, where Klynge was previously ambassador, there is great potential for Blockchain in anti-corruption initiatives.
Other tech, such as big data analytics or robotics, can support in humanitarian disasters. “You can use drone technology to find exactly what kind of life support people in difficult situations will require,” he says.
Klynge retains a career diplomat’s focus on cooperation and relationships around the globe. While he is based in the US, he has teams in Denmark and Asia, establishing a virtual embassy spanning three time zones. The next few months will entail plenty of travel across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Many countries are perhaps “less enthusiastic” about globalisation and digitisation, he notes. But at its core, the tech embassy could help prepare the Danish people “for what’s coming their way” – both to alleviate concerns, and also identify areas where new technology “might undermine the way we have organised ourselves”.
There must have been a first ambassador appointed from one nation state to another, but nowadays this is obviously commonplace. Perhaps in the next few decades, the same will be true of international tech embassies. Klynge is not only liaising with tech companies, he is like many of their leaders – a startup founder.