lighting, Diplomacy

Technology and Diplomacy: The Rise of Multilateralism in the Bay Area

13 April 2023

Swissnex, San Francisco

Event description

Technology meets diplomacy in the Bay Area to promote core values of humanity in the AI era.

On 13 April, the Diplo Foundation and Swissnex in San Francisco launched a new study on Tech diplomacy practice in the San Francisco Bay Area to promote the core values of humanity. The launch event was hosted at Swissnex in San Francisco, located at Pier17, with more than 100 diplomats, tech representatives, and academia joining the lively debate.

Photo of panelist at Tech Diplomacy event in San Fransisco

In the opening, Jovan Kurbalija, Director of Diplo Foundation, noted:

‘In the Bay Area and Geneva, technology meets diplomacy, Today, this is a critical interplay in regulating the impact of generative AI on modern society.’

Geneva - Bay Area interplays

In the discussion he moderated, the main focus was on overcoming gaps in professional culture between tech and diplomatic sectors. 

Yannick Heiniger from Swissnex in San Francisco discussed policy, academic, and technology linkages between Geneva and the Bay Area and how the practice of technology diplomacy in the Bay Area needs more safe spaces to enable trust and collaboration across actors.

Anne Marie Engtoft Larsen, Danish Tech Ambassador, spoke about how tech diplomacy can be used to bridge geographical divides. She said,

‘Diplomacy is about bridging distances – physical or ideological – between people or countries. As we move into a digital age, technology can help us forge new connections across borders and cultures.’

Diplomacy and the tech sector need to create new ways of interacting. Diplomacy has the legitimacy of representing societies and states, while the tech sector has the necessary expertise to address complex digital problems.  

Tech Diplomacy online course COURSE IMAGE

Eric Loeb, Executive Vice President for Government Affairs at Salesforce, discussed how tech diplomacy could be used to strengthen international collaboration. He said,

‘Tech diplomacy is an essential tool that enables governments to collaborate more effectively with each other while also leveraging private sector resources to deliver better outcomes for citizens around the world.’

While stressing the critical role of the Bay Area, he also stressed a growing number of capitals and centres where tech diplomacy interplays are happening, including Geneva, Brussels, New York and other tech hubs worldwide. 

Martin Rauchbauer from the Tech Diplomacy Network highlighted how tech diplomacy could help create positive change for global citizens. He said,

‘By using tech diplomacy as a tool for collaboration rather than the competition, we can drive positive change for global citizens through initiatives such as data sharing or open access initiatives.”

Networking and cooperation are critical to reducing ‘lost in translation’ among diplomats, tech experts, academia, civil society, and other actors. 

Eugenio V. Garcia, the Brazilian Tech Diplomat in San Francisco, stressed the need for the participation of developing countries in the Bay Area. He noted that

‘while digital developments impact societies worldwide, many small and developing countries are missing in the Bay Area dynamics. Innovative solutions are needed for countries that cannot afford permanent representation in the Bay Area.’

He stressed the need to adjust protocol and style of diplomacy. For example, traditional courtesy calls practised in diplomacy do not resonate with the business culture of the tech sector, which is less representational and more functional. Yet, meetings, even if they are not transactional, are essential for building trust.

Pavlina Ittelson from Diplo US summarised the main points of the study on ‘Tech diplomacy practice in the San Francisco Bay Area’ by listing representation, engagement and practical ways for connecting tech companies and diplomatic services. The report’s findings have shown that tech diplomacy in the Bay Area has matured over the last five years, but much more involvement from both governments and tech sector is needed. Small and developing countries not represented in the area would particularly benefit from tech diplomacy practice.

Swiss Tech Ambassador Balz Abplanalp described the Swiss initiative linking Geneva’s humanitarianism and the Bay Area’s tech dynamics. Digital tools can be used to reduce civilian suffering in conflict regions. Switzerland will host a series of events with humanitarian and tech experts.

Stephanie Linden Seale of the UN Human Rights has emphasised the importance of linking tech developments to all human rights, not only privacy and freedom of expression. 

In the discussion, the participants and panellists discussed the importance of the engagement of the tech community and diplomats’ impacts of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements on the internet governance discussion. Additionally, to the question of whether powerful tech companies should be equal to the states in digital governance negotiations,  the panellists declined such an option,  as the companies do not have the legitimacy from the citizens to act on their behalf.

Discussing the libertarian culture of the Bay Area and its adversity to the regulatory interventions by governments, the panellists have pointed out a change in the attitude of companies to regulation. Companies are now more inclined to see regulation as a way to set up a predictable and reliable environment for investments and innovation. The last point discussed was the role of indigenous and minority communities in tech diplomacy and the importance of multilingualism. 

The study on Tech diplomacy was supported by Swissnex in San Francisco, Diplo Foundation and the Republic and Canton of Geneva. This launch event marked an important milestone towards building bridges between different stakeholders to promote the core values of humanity through technology.

Thursday, 13 April 2023

17:30-20:30 PDT, Swissnex – San Francisco

san francisco

Join us on 13 April, in San Francisco, as we officially launch the report ‘Tech Diplomacy Practice in the San Francisco Bay Area’ and explore some of the thematics around it.

We will explore the practice of tech diplomacy, geopolitics impacts, the opportunities and challenges it represents for diplomatic representations and tech companies, and their mutual interactions.

The event is hosted by Swissnex in San Francisco and Diplo and is supported by the Republic and Canton of Geneva.

For more information, and to register, click the link below.

About the report

In 2018, Diplo, in cooperation with Swissnex in San Francisco, the Consulate General of Switzerland in San Francisco, and the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) conducted a techplomacy mapping exercise to explore how different diplomatic representations interact with the San Francisco Bay Area ecosystem.

Since the publication of that report, a lot has changed. Research over the past few months led to the publication of this updated report.