November 17, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion dedicated to the issues of technological sovereignty in the modern world. Ivan Timofeev, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, who acted as moderator, noted that now the issue of technological sovereignty can no longer be discussed as something abstract, as a kind of a drill. “Now this is already a combat alert,” he stressed.
Anastasia Tolstukhina, programme manager and website editor of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), pointed to the on-going rollback of globalisation in its previous form and the division of the world into competing techno-economic blocs, which has given rise to a long-term trend towards technological sovereignty and a high probability of an exhaustive race for leadership. Outlining the idea of technological sovereignty in the European Union, she noted that for Europeans, it entails the ability to independently make decisions in the technological field and bear responsibility for themselves, as well as reduce structural dependence in high-tech areas. She added that it didn’t, however, entail resorting to isolationism or protectionism.
Ivan Danilin, Head of the Department of Science and Innovation at IMEMO RAS, noted that from an economic point of view, full-fledged technological sovereignty is currently impossible, and the real question is how to protect one’s technological development from external risks. Turning to an analysis of the Chinese approach to the problem, he pointed to two important features: the re-creation on its territory of those key elements of value chains that allow them to control some process, and the stake on “national champions” as subjects of national sovereignty, in particular on “small giants”, that is, promising technology start-ups.
Stanislav Kulbyatsky, Deputy Director of the National Centre for the Development of Artificial Intelligence under the Government of the Russian Federation, spoke about the federal Artificial Intelligence project, designed for the period from 2021 to 2024. Defining technological sovereignty in the case of Russia as the creation within the country of technologies that are critical for it, he emphasised that artificial intelligence is a cross-cutting technology that ensures all technological development. “Today, we can already say that a strong ecosystem for the development of artificial intelligence has been created in Russia,” the expert said, adding that the transition to the stage of large-scale implementation of artificial intelligence is now ongoing.
According to Glenn Diesen, a professor at the University of Southeast Norway (Norway), technological sovereignty is a necessary condition for maintaining sovereignty as such. He believes that in the modern world, this implies the existence of an internal ecosystem, a local digital platform that develops national know-how and industries. “Digital technologies manipulate and control the modern world,” he said. He noted that Europe does not have its own “national champions” in this area, which prevents it from achieving technological sovereignty and technological autonomy and creates the danger of its technological colonisation by external markets.
Arvind Gupta, Head and Co-Founder of Digital India Foundation, presented the Indian perspective on the issue. He pointed out that the hopes for the free exchange of information, which were previously associated with the development of the Internet, did not materialise. “We have become dependent on the Internet,” he remarked. He believes that the dominance of a few large technology companies in the market limits the ability of local competitors and turns information systems into weapons. According to him, India developed its data model about a decade ago, the purpose of which is to promote development and solve local problems. This is what can be considered the Indian path to technological sovereignty.