Digital legislation – crossing the chasm of innovation adoption

November 17, 2022

In the past few decades, digital technologies have immensely changed the way we perceive our everyday lives, economic reality, how we define art and creativity, and even how we frame existential and ethical questions. 

This revolution is far from over, and the challenge remains – how do we react to and keep pace with the ongoing wave of digital innovations? In other words, how do we navigate these tumultuous waters?

Governments all around the world will have to decide on their stance toward ever-more sophisticated technological advances. Should they wholeheartedly embrace this new reality – remove all the obstacles standing in the way of innovative ventures? Or perhaps, at some point, they will have to concede that there are limits to what technologies should be allowed to do. In any case, this will have to be discussed and framed in the form of digital legislation.

Gatis Ozols, Deputy State Secretary on Digital Transformation Affairs of Latvia’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development – Government CIO, shared his thoughts on what could be the principles and key challenges involved in providing modern and fitting digital legislation.

Thriving digital ecosystems

Innovation doesn’t take place in a vacuum – it requires a favorable environment, and legislation is an important part of this equation. 

Legislation and market regulation can act as a stepping stone or obstacle, and Gatis stresses that Latvia should aim to take a mission-oriented pro-tech innovation stance.

“The legal framework provided by the state should enable and assist promising digital ventures,” he believes.

Thus, it’s crucial to discuss whether the current legislation and legal acts are adequate in light of cutting-edge technologies and business models. The question is: are they in line with modern and even potential future demands, societal and cultural aspects?

According to Gatis, the ultimate goal from the government’s perspective is to provide legislation that is futureproof and empowering rather than paralyzing. So, there is a clear need to review the existing policy-making approaches and introduce methods that support future-proofing, such as strategic foresight and anticipatory regulation. Gatis stresses that we should strive for iterative continuous development of regulations and standards that mature together with knowledge of the regulated phenomena.

The risk of regulating lies in stipulating something that might prove a hindrance in the long run. In emerging industries, the initial legislation iteration should avoid strict, inflexible and technical rules imposed from the top. In the initial phases, it should be concerned with general principles, values, rights, as well as liability aspects rather than trivial, pedantic details. 

A successful outcome from the legislative perspective could be compared to a healthy digital ecosystem. And ideally, it should be a diverse and hospitable ecosystem that would afford fair and transparent principles to all its denizens and ensure that digital innovations spring from various sources and aren’t hindered by technology or platform gatekeepers. 

Gatis is already pondering the ramifications of Web 3.0, which promises to offer a more democratic and decentralized version of the Internet. New kinds of organizations will likely emerge – decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) that operate with different assumptions than most of today’s traditional legal entities. These organizations will be governed by highly-participatory processes or algorithms and will operate globally rather than in one or a handful of jurisdictions. 

This raises the question of what kind of role the state should assume here – that of a mediator, or judge, or should it look the other way and allow more of a Laissez-faire state of affairs? And are there any existing legislative bottlenecks that might hinder the current evolution and adoption of such promising innovations? The legislative questions should be tackled proactively, already with an eye on how the future might look like.

Mind the gap: innovation adoption

One of the emerging tech innovation challenges is getting from the lab to the street.

On one side of the regulatory spectrum is the innovation development phase which often takes place in a controlled and isolated environment behind the doors of testing facilities. On the other side, there are mature real-life applications functioning in line with stable regulations. 

There is one crucial step in-between – enabling real-life piloting options. According to Gatis, a smooth transition through this phase is what defines a mature innovation adoption process, and it’s where regulation is the necessary enabling instrument for innovation – the must-have bridge to get out of the lab. 

One example is autonomous and remotely controlled vehicles. In Riga, there is a testing facility in the Biķernieki race track that allows emulating cross-border scenarios. This testing site has set up Latvia’s LMT and Estonia’s Telia mobile networks. Still, there are relatively few options to test more sophisticated solutions – for example, remote delivery of car-sharing vehicles.

Industrial parks could potentially be a good starting point to balance the need for real-life application and safety measures. Latvian company GetUgo recently carried out its first successful remote robot test run in an industrial park testing ground located in Norway. This test run was carried out from a control room in Riga – 900 kilometers away from the site. There are more examples like this – LMT’s Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) project involved a remote drone delivery test run on a mobile network.

Gatis emphasizes – countries and administrations that will succeed in streamlining the adoption process can become attractive places for both national and global innovators.

Challenges of further digitalization

Sometimes the increasing digitalization of our lives is imagined as a science fiction scenario where humankind becomes captive to technology. That’s probably an exaggeration, but we know that technology-enabled experiences are becoming more immersive. The relationship between humans and technologies is rapidly evolving – from being just mere tools, technologies have become human assistants or, in some cases, substitutes with varying levels of autonomy.

The latest developments of deep learning capabilities are now surfacing and becoming visible to non-experts via initiatives such as Midjourney and Phenaki, as well as examples of autonomous mobility and robotics. This raises multiple questions: what kind and level of autonomy are we ready to grant to our technological offspring? How transparent should these technologies be, and do they risk compromising our privacy?

These challenges will also be felt on a societal and personal level. There is a certain distance between technological innovations as such and their adoption. New technologies require novel skills and tools to utilize, and a certain mental shift is required to accept autonomous processes that previously involved human decision-making.

From Gatis perspective, in order to conceive future policy frameworks, there is a growing need to publicly discuss questions of digital ethics.

5G Techritory: envisioning the future

Digital legislation will undoubtedly play a crucial role in how (and to what extent) technologies will shape our lives. 

It will provide a framework that will play a formative role in shaping the future environment – a world of analogous and digital dimensions blending together. Legislators can’t afford to be ill-prepared, but at the same time, they are in an unenviable position – they don’t have a glass ball, which shows how this future will actually look.

However, there are people actively working on cutting-edge innovations and industry experts with a keen understanding of these trends. To that end, events like 5G Techritory play a key role. Gatis thinks the upcoming event will provide a vision of the future – a demonstration of today’s technological capabilities together with a perspective of what the next steps might look like. 

According to Gatis, ecosystem events such as 5G Techritory facilitate knowledge sharing and provide networking opportunities – which is crucial if we collectively want to create an environment for responsible and effective innovation development and adoption.

As a motto, Gatis has chosen a quote from A. de Saint Exupéry’s work: “As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it”. 

Join 5G Techritory 2022 on November 29, 16:30 – 17:10 (EET), Policy & Strategy stage, where Gatis will participate in the panel discussion on digital legislation alongside experts from Microsoft, UKTIN, the Digital Accelerator of Latvia, and Latvia’s Ministry of Education and Science.