At a time when countries are feuding over tariffs and trade agreements, Melinda Gates and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma feel optimistic that international cooperation will bridge the digital divide. The hope is that global collaboration will help connect every adult to a "digital network" by 2030.
The lofty goal is part of the United Nations' The Age of Digital Interdependence Report, released Monday. Gates, who runs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband, Ma and UN Secretary-General António Guterres discussed the findings from the report during a panel session on Monday.
The report's release comes at a time when issues of data privacy and the hostilities between the US and China permeate the headlines. Despite talks of recent data leaks, the 5G race and artificial intelligence, the UN panel brought specific attention to the less-discussed fact that internet access still isn't available to half the world.
Both Gates and Ma spent much of their time talking about internet inclusivity. They mentioned that internet connection is key to ensuring the underprivileged can participate in a global economy. Internet access would allow farmers and small-scale entrepreneurs to access outside buyers. For instance, sellers in rural communities could also search up real-time market data to competitively price their products.
"Developing countries and marginalized communities must have a voice in deciding how these technologies are used," Gates said. "That's how we can guarantee that, instead of reinforcing old problems, digital technologies are a source of new solutions."
While Gates also touched on how access to the internet and the possibility of participating in a marketplace can empower marginalized women, Ma explained how the internet allows those in developing nations to sell in other well-established markets.
"Today, if you don't let your people connect to the internet, it is worse then if you don't let people connect to electricity," said Ma.
In an era where fears of job loss are exacerbated by the emergence of artificial intelligence, the panelists also touched on their expectations for the autonomous technology.
Companies should make sure their AI technology follows both engineering and ethical standards, the panelists stated in the report.
"Audits and certification schemes should monitor compliance of artificial intelligence systems with engineering and ethical standards, which should be developed using multi-stakeholder and multilateral approaches," said the panelists in the report.
Guterres, who commissioned the report, was pleased with its recommendations.
"This report will be a fantastic instrument ... to start a serious discussion worldwide how we can transform the digital era... for everybody," he said.