Harvard Kennedy School’s Nicolas Miailhe on the transformative power of tech in policy
Nicolas Miailhe — an expert in urban innovation, aerospace, defense, security and emerging technologies — has spent ten years in international business development at the crossroads of the high-tech industry and government, especially in emerging markets and multicultural environments.
According to Miailhe, since the turn of the 21st century nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive sciences have begun converging and changing the elementary building blocks of matter and machines, our bodies and brains — and even our societies and environment.
To him, global economic systems have generated huge improvements in quality of life worldwide over the past century guided by progress in science and technology — “but the market cannot do it alone.”
The rise of technology has been and will continue to be guided by massive long-term, high-risk capital which only governments are able to mobilize, he says.
“Think of computing, the Internet, the Human Genome Project, GPS, or space exploration. None of these major techno-scientific endeavors would have been possible without government!” noted Miailhe. “As our understanding and control over these elements dramatically increases in the coming decades, our governments will be confronted with an array of crucial ethical questions and policy choices.”
A social entrepreneur passionate about the transformational power of innovation and technology, Miailhe co-founded the People for Global Transformation (PGT) — a non-profit interdisciplinary think-and-do tank centered on bringing about “a generational shift in policy thinking to respond to the 21st century challenges.”
Co-chaired by Sam Pitroda (former Indian Cabinet Minister and father of the Indian telecom revolution) and Hubert Védrine (former French Foreign Affairs Minister), the group gathers fifteen leading global leaders and experts to “advise urban stakeholders to become more innovative at delivering inclusive and sustainable urban development at scale.”
Miailhe noted what he sees as a large gap between what’s possible in technology and what’s allowed for in governance and innovation policy: “People are growing disillusioned with elective politics. At the same time, the rise of a number of technologies and platforms offer new means of bringing people to the fore.”
In his work as a Research Fellow at the Harvard Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Miailhe is working on a platform called “the Candidate,” multimedia project which aims to lower the barriers of entry to politics — and revitalize citizen engagement with representative democracy.
“We’re trying to harness the digital revolution and the rise of immersive media to lower the barriers of entry, targeting people without much prior political experience at the grassroots level,” he said of the project, which would select a handful of “totally inexperienced but passionate people” to document what it takes to run for, win, and hold public office.
The video-centric online platform will serve as a recruitment tool for a TV show, generating the “virality” needed to grow the platform into a full-fledged “digital soapbox.”
“It’s like American Idol meets YouTube meets Kickstarter meets politics,” Miailhe explained. “New technologies are making it easier to get yourself out there. Politics is ripe for disruption!”
In 2014, Miailhe also led the development of The Future Society at Harvard Kennedy School, a platform to expand awareness and knowledge about technologies that “fundamentally transform the way we live.”
The Future Society has led several initiatives, including the AI Initiative which “gathers students, researchers, alumni, faculty and experts from Harvard and beyond, as well as citizens interested in better understanding, discussing and working on the profound consequences of the current AI explosion on our societies.”
“Our goal is to engage all relevant stakeholders to help shape the global policy framework needed to address the challenges of the ongoing race for the development and control of Artificial Intelligence,” Miailhe said.
In his research on the governance of emerging technologies as a Senior Visiting Fellow with the Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard Kennedy School, Miailhe focuses heavily on the topic of post-humanism, a “cultural and political movement advocating for the use of emerging technologies to transcend current human conditions — vanquishing death and suffering.”