IT explosion due to change

Saturday, October 24, 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. Seventy years ago, fifty-one nations saw the need to prevent us from using our ability to destroy each other. It was not coincidental that the creation of the UN followed closely on the deployment of a weapon capable of destroying the planet – the Atomic Bomb. Today the United Nations numbers one hundred ninety two of the world’s one hundred ninety seven nations. Only the Vatican has deliberately chosen to be a non-member opting instead for official observer status.

On Saturday, October 24th I found myself thinking about the UN, its founding following the atomic realities of World War II, our current world, and the emerging but as yet unknown threats we face.  Nuclear Armageddon will always be a possibility but quieter insidious threats also abound.  Nowhere are these more prevalent that in the realm of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) which underpins business enterprises and governments.  Consider VW’s illegal use of emissions test cheating software in over 11 million vehicles, the Sony Movies hack that wiped half the company’s computers, saw valuable corporate data posted online, and highlighted the need for backup communications, and Apple’s failure to detect that around 4000 apps in its Appstore were infected with xCodeGhost malware. Even bigger targets are being discussed within the context of Aurora Attacks.

Cyberwarfare is the quiet giant waiting to devour us and particularly enterprises.  From the megatrends keynote given at the World Computing Congress, over 90% of networks can be compromised and this can happen in less that 15 minutes.  Network level protection is insufficient – it has to occur at the application level.  Plus there appears to be declining ethical conduct.  Imagine, if ransom demands are not paid, a world of self-driving cars hacked to, all at once, turn left immediately! In addition there is the promise, the rapid evolution and adoption of machine learning that will fundamentally change government, business, education, and our society. For enterprises, this is very profound evidenced by the new easy to use tools using machine learning such as Microsoft Azure, Windows 10, Skype and Hololens.

So what does this have to do with the United Nations and its creation in the shadow of the mushroom clouds of 1945 and its new focus on ICT as a driver for global prosperity? Cyber-power is the new superweapon, ICT the underlying driver for success and machine learning creating a new dawn for our civilisation. The UN knows this and is taking action to ensure ICT is used to support their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and that it is not used as an instrument of war. Just what is happening at the UN to make this a reality?

Starting with an historical invitation in July to address the UN General Assembly, followed by keynoting three times at the October IFIP World Computing Congress conferences, Stephen Ibaraki, a Microsoft MVP, was back again in October at the UN. Speaking at the UN General Assembly’s consultation around WSIS+10 review and the SDGs and armed with delivering the earlier pivotal global keynote on ICT Megatrends, Stephen Ibaraki, IFIP Global Industry Council founding chair, Multiple (50+) award winning technology futurist, global advisor and regular IT World contributor, reinforced the importance of professionalism in delivering the trustworthy technology that is essential.  In added deliberation, he provided insights into the megatrends and machine learning including arranging a briefing to the ICT heads of UN agencies plus ways to engage CIOs worldwide as vice chair for the last two World CIO Forums and chair of the interactive session with the EU CIO of the year awardees at CIO City.

Ibaraki said digital disruption, new work practices and the growing cost of failure mean that it is time to focus on the people of ICT.  Computers are set on their path by people and those programmers are key to a peaceful way forward. “The reasons for failure include lack of commitment and buy in from senior management, lack of skills in the project team – managers and ICT practitioners – lack of planing, inappropriate funding models, poor procurement practices and deficient or absent governance models”.  “It’s time to focus on the ICT people, the qualities they need to succeed – professionalism, skills and entrepreneurial acumen – and how we can enable and empower them to provide trustworthy computing globally, says Ibaraki.  “Given the reach of ICT in our lives, it is important for an ICT professional to be technically strong in order to use the right technology for the relevant problem, ethically grounded to ensure that technology is put to the right use, socially conscious so that the technical solution takes into consideration elements of sustainability, and business savvy to ensure commercial viability which is required for social prosperity and funding of new developments”.  Post UN Ibaraki, a successful four decade innovator and serial entrepreneur was again invited by the US Embassy to attend the CES 2016.  While there he is judging the Scholar Appreneur Awards hosted at CES with a focus on “entrepreneurship, innovation, and encouraging our youth into start-ups.  This is key for driving the UN SDGs and WSIS action lines”.

UN General Assembly President, Mogens Lykketoft, says the review of the implementation of the outcomes of the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is one of the most important processes taking place at the United Nations this year. Just last month, world leaders adopted the ambitious and transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which seeks to eradicate poverty and advance shared prosperity, peace and sustainability.

“That agenda together with the Addis Agenda highlights the critical role of science, technology and innovation, and in particular by ICT, as means of implementation for the sustainable development goals,” says Mr Lykketoft. “Thanks to the rapid development of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and growth in global interconnectivity this  past decade, ICT plays an increasingly important role in promoting economic and social progress in many parts of the world. Nonetheless, the full potential of ICT in catalysing broad-based and inclusive growth is far from being realized.” Mr Lykketoft identifies issues including the digital divides within and among countries, internet stability and security, data ownership, and exercise of human rights online as being emerging challenges that needed to be addressed by the process.

Stemming from Ibaraki’s speeches, Mr Lykketoft noted the ICT professionalism theme in his closing summary. This was accentuated by Anne Miroux, Director of the Technology and Trade Logistics Division in the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the principal organ of the United Nations General Assembly dealing with trade, investment. Miroux is also Head of the Secretariat of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), where she drives work relating to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the 10 year Review of WSIS and the Sustainable Development Goals. In her concluding comments, Ms Miroux again pointed to the role of ICT professionalism as an issue to be considered when furthering the zero-draft, the primary document being developed to encapsulate key recommendations for implementation. “I also wish to underscore that in dealing with education … that was the link to professionalism of ICT employment that was mentioned and emphasised by Mr Ibaraki and it might be something to focus on as well and submit to the various negotiators,” she said.

One of a select group of stakeholders invited to present to the WSIS Review process, Mr. Ibaraki previously made five presentations at the first historical UN GA briefing in July and will return to the UN possibly in November and December. IFIP IP3, with CIPS as a founder, has been a regular presenter at the WSIS Forum in Geneva for the past four years, helping to educate stakeholders and UN decision-makers about the impact of professionalism in ICT and the role it must play in advancing the SDGs and the WSIS Action Lines. IFIP IP3 Chair and Australian Computer Society President, Brenda Aynsley, has been a major force behind the organisation’s involvement first at WSIS and now with the United Nations driving its professionalism initiatives.

The UN was born in response to the realization that humanity had progressed its technology to a point where global annihilation was a proven possibility. In the 21st century we face a new “ultimate weapon” the unethical application of computer technology. As our harnessing of artificial intelligence creation progresses we are well reminded of the lessons learned in harnessing the power of the atom. The UN is our best chance to benefit from the myriad opportunities of ICT and to survive its threats. Their increasing focus on ethics and professionalism is proof of their understanding of the best way forward.

A comprehensive interview of Anne Miroux is now available as part of the ACM Learning Center podcast library.

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