Digital Summit - IGF 2021: digital technologies are changing the world

M. Kmieciński/PAP

The world is changing as fast as ever before. Smart cities, AI, digital education, the internet of things, and cyber security are the key topics discussed during the first day of the IGF 2021, the UN Digital Summit organized in Katowice.

The first day of the Digital Summit opened the debate about the concept of smart cities. The experts agreed that cities around the world, both big metropolitan areas and smaller centers, face similar challenges caused by the global urbanization process. The growing number of residents in cities and suburbs forces local governments to redefine the existing formula for the functioning of transport, administration, and law enforcement services. 


As noted by Janusz Cieszyński, Secretary of State for Digitization at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and Government Plenipotentiary for the Cyber Security, in this situation, local authorities are increasingly turning to modern technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and digital analytics, to design and implement effective local government programs to improve the services and streamline internal governance.

"For local government officials, the idea of "smart city" is not a theory but practical tools that bring tangible returns, such as "smart budget" and "smart administration." For example, because now it is possible to take care of almost all official matters online, queues to institutions have shortened, employees can engage in other tasks, and this optimization, in the end, means savings for the city budget," explained Minister Cieszynski. 

In turn, during the panel devoted to the world economy recovering after the crisis, Janusz Cieszynski pointed out that also the digital summit in Katowice is taking place with the help of technology, which is changing the world, which has been particularly evident in recent months. 

"Technology shows us how fast our world is changing. And when it comes to public policy, usually the changing horizon means decades or years. We are proving that it is possible to change the world fast and that these changes can affect our lives within a few weeks or months," said the minister.

As the Secretary of State for Digitalisation said, further investments are needed, but once they are made, we can use the technologies in many necessary fields of life, influencing the lives of billions of people around the world. When asked about the possibility of accelerating digitalization in areas where at the moment there is no internet access, Mr. Cieszynski replied that "it would take 100 billion euros to provide access to the Internet for the three billion people in the world who currently do not enjoy it."

"I think it's entirely feasible, and these are the resources that would make it possible to deliver it on a market basis. Looking back at the finances that have been allocated to fight the pandemic, the 100 billion euros seems something achievable for the global economy," concluded the Secretary of State for Digital Affairs.

Besides Janusz Cieszyński, the panel discussion on global economic recovery was attended by: Liu Zhenmin, Deputy Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, as well as ministers responsible for the area of digitalization from Syria, Rwanda, and Slovenia.

Lily Edinam Botsyoe, a young online activist from Ghana, was the guest speaker at the first IGF 2021 press briefing. Ms. Botsyoe is the executive director at Hacklab Foundation and a computer science student at the University of Cincinnati. She coordinates the Ghana Youth Internet Governance Forum. She is involved in promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) studies among girls in her country through coloring books. Using this unconventional method, she wants to encourage them to take an interest in science and programming. 

The stories of women involved in STEM described in the coloring book are selected during an online vote. "I asked people to fill out surveys. It could be anyone, such as a teacher who encouraged us in math," Ms. Botsyoe said during the briefing. The idea is to find out how the characters in the book succeeded while doing the coloring. The project is aimed at girls aged 7 and up.

At the same time, Lily Edinam Botsyoe stressed that she was very happy to participate in the Katowice summit. "I have noticed that we, the youngsters, are only able to understand different concepts when we see them when we are part of them or participate in them. That's why I'm happy to be here and to have the opportunity to participate in sessions with different stakeholder groups. People who present different points of view," said Lily. 

 The UN Digital Summit IGF 2021 in Katowice also provides an opportunity for bilateral talks and negotiations between countries. As part of the meeting between Janusz Cieszyński, Government’s Plenipotentiary for Cyber Security, and Henri Verdier, French Ambassador for Digital Affairs, details were agreed on strengthening the cooperation between Warsaw and Paris on issues including cyber security and support for scientific projects carried out by specialists from both countries.

"Developing innovative technologies and digitalization defined as the development of modern citizen-friendly infrastructure is a key element of the policy of both the Polish government and President Macron" - stressed Janusz Cieszyński.

The representative of France welcomed the postulate of the Polish minister concerning the deepening of cooperation between enterprises and institutions from Poland and France.  He emphasized the issues, crucial for both countries, that involve robotization and increasing the efficiency of agricultural production, as well as providing permanent financing for projects that strengthen the cybersecurity of the entire European Union, especially in the context of the tense situation beyond its eastern borders. "The digital protection of Community citizens will be one of the priorities of the upcoming French presidency of the EU," assured Mr. Verdier.

In the afternoon, the Youth IGF Summit in Katowice opened with a speech given by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. 

"I belong to a generation that remembers the times without cell phones and Internet, but even to me, they seem unreal. The digital revolution has happened almost imperceptibly.  Even at the end of the 20th century, it was difficult to imagine that the Internet would dominate our lives," the Prime Minister assessed. 

According to the Prime Minister, the pace of development of IT is getting faster every year. People born in the 90s are the first generation for whom the Internet has become a natural environment. Children are learning to use a smartphone faster than reading or writing. New technologies are also shaping a whole new type of thinking. "That's why I know that it is the young generations who are most competent to lead the process of digital development. Poland is boldly entering the world of new technologies. Our ambition is that digital services are used to reduce social gaps and improve the comfort of life," added Mateusz Morawiecki. 

In his speech, Poland's Plenipotentiary for the UN Digital Summit IGF 2021, Krzysztof Szubert, assessed that during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, "digital technologies and the Internet have proven that they can affect our lives to a degree we have not seen before." 

"Here in Poland we have used this time very productively," he added and mentioned the "Home Quarantine" monitoring application used during the pandemic, the "Protego Safe" application, and the Patient Online Account, among others.

During the ceremony, Liu Zhenmin, Deputy Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, read a letter from the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

On the first day of the IGF 2021, the decision to launch the Silesian Center for Engineering, Law, Technology, and Digital Skills was also announced. Among the signatories of the agreement were: Professor Celina Olszak, the Rector of the University of Economics in Katowice, Professor Arkadiusz Mężyk, the Rector of the Silesian University of Technology, Professor Ryszard Koziołek, the Rector of the University of Silesia, and Wojciech Pawlak, NASK Director.

"When, a quarter of a century ago, NASK substantially 'connected Poland to the Internet', many of today's obvious digital threats were unimaginable. Thanks to the experience gained and enormous effort of Polish scientists, many of whom pursue their passions in Silesia, today we are creating a unique institution, which will strengthen the security of the users of new technologies all over the world, emphasized Wojciech Pawlak.  

The institution, which will be created as a result of close cooperation between the leading Silesian universities, will focus on conducting interdisciplinary projects related to broadly understood digitization. As Professor Ryszard Koziołek stressed, the challenges associated with the introduction and use of new technologies go beyond any specific field of science.

"The digital world will not be built only by IT specialists. The software they create requires the talent and efforts of engineers. To get funding for research, we need to keep business in mind. However, it turns out that the humanists also play an important role in this whole chain, lawyers or sociologists who define the legal framework of the new digital reality and analyze its impact on people and the whole society," explained the rector of the University of Silesia.

The new center is also to be another developmental driver for the entire region. According to Professor Arkadiusz Mężyk, the deep metamorphosis of Silesia is evidenced by the fact that the signing of the agreement was accompanied not by a mining orchestra but a Mars rover constructed by Silesian scientists and students.

"We are united by the desire to ensure the successful development of the entire region through the synergy of science, technology, and business. Our ambition is to make Silesia the center of Polish and European innovation, and the creation of the Centre is a huge step in that direction," emphasized Professor Celina Olszak.