How democracy helps innovation and emerging technology

The World Economic Forum uses tech to help countries, such as regulating drones in Rwanda, and considers how social media amplifies polarization among people.

Dan Patterson, a Senior Producer for CBS News and CNET, interviewed Murat Sönmez, director of the World Economic Forum, about technology and social media's threat to democracy. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Murat Sönmez: Democracy is one of the best forms of governance, but it takes its time because you need to go through processes, and it's participatory. What we're doing is, we're taking pilots in different jurisdictions. 

For example, in Rwanda, we helped them regulate drones in five months. It's a small country, a landlocked country, and it was a national priority to be able to deliver blood to women who would otherwise die during childbirth because they didn't have access to blood. They couldn't scale drones, so our team helped them craft a regulation in five months. 

You can say, 'Well, it's a small country, a couple of million people landlocked in East Africa,' but once Rwanda took off, they today have the largest fleet of civilian drones in the world. They become the drone capital.

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All other nations started saying, 'How do they do it?' We now have 12 African countries adopting the same approach. We're taking it to India, and the International Civil Aviation Organization is interested, and the USFAA is interested. You can start in small pilots and scale it, whether it's a democratic system or not. It doesn't really matter because when people see a solution, the adoption becomes easy.

Dan Patterson: Where is democracy in five years? Is democracy under threat?

Murat Sönmez: I think so because, with social networks, we're seeing echo chambers being built, and you no longer have to interact with people who do not agree with you. That's a big threat, in my opinion. When you have like-minded people all in the same room, it creates further and further polarization. I don't think it's healthy for the future.

Dan Patterson: Polarization: Is social media responsible for it? Or a symptom of it?

Murat Sönmez: I think it's human nature to hang out with people who are like-minded. Before social media, we were forced to interact with people in physical settings, so we didn't have a choice. Social media amplified it, but there are ways, I think, to see if we can get people together from other dimensions and opposing views.

That's what we do at the World Economic Forum--whether it's the youth or political leaders or governments--we bring them together around the world to talk about issues that matter to them in a civilized way. We roll up the sleeves, and we're trying to contribute to that effort.

Watch more interviews with Dan Patterson and Murat Sönmez

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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto