It’s billed as a summit for democracy. Under U.S. leadership, countries from six continents will gather from March 29 to March 30 to highlight “how democracies deliver for their citizens and are best equipped to address the world’s most pressing challenges,” according to the U.S. State Department.
Although advancing technology for democracy is a key pillar of the summit’s agenda, the United States has been missing in action when it comes to laying out and leading on a vision for democratic tech leadership. And by staying on the sidelines and letting others—most notably the European Union—lead on tech regulation, the United States has the most to lose economically and politically.
One in five private-sector jobs in the United States is linked to the tech sector, making tech a cornerstone of the U.S. economy. When U.S. tech companies are negatively impacted by global economic headwinds, overzealous regulators, or other factors, the consequences are felt across the economy, as the recent tech layoffs impacting tens of thousands of workers have shown.
And “tech” isn’t just about so-called Big Tech companies such as Alphabet (Google’s parent company) or social media platforms such as Meta’s Facebook and Instagram. Almost every company is now a tech company—automakers, for example, can track users’ movements from GPS data, require large numbers of computer chips, and use the cloud for data storage. Rapid developments in artificial intelligence, especially in the field of natural language processing (the ability behind OpenAI’s ChatGPT), have widespread applications across an even larger swath of sectors including media and communications.
This means that tech policy is not just about content moderation or antitrust legislation—two of the main areas of focus for U.S. policymakers. Rather, tech policy is economic policy, trade policy, and—when it comes to U.S. tech spreading across the globe—foreign policy.
As the global leader in technology innovation, the United States has a real competitive edge as well as a political opportunity to advance a vision for technology in the service of democracy. But the window to act is rapidly narrowing as others, including like-minded democracies in Europe but also authoritarian China, are stepping in to fill the leadership void.