5 Ways Technology Will Revolutionize Government in the 2020s

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As we enter a new decade, these technological advancements will redefine what it means to be a citizen of the United States and the world. 

The 2010s brought with it a transformative wave of enhanced tech capabilities to the federal government, enabling applications that have fundamentally changed how the government provides services to its citizens. These new technological capabilities, however, have also created unprecedented challenges that have tested the government’s ability to adapt to a faster, more digitally focused environment for global communication and commerce.

As we enter a new decade, these technological advancements will not only put more of our existing systems to the test, but they will also redefine what it means to be a citizen of the United States and the world. 

Here are five ways that technology and its capabilities will shape our government over the next 10 years.

1. Fraud will become a weapon of war.

As more governments turn to the digital realm to help operate their services and systems, we will continue to see bad actors take advantage of lapses in security and oversight. Fraud will be used as a tool by state and nonstate actors to destabilize financial systems and governments. By doing so, these nefarious groups will be able to generate significant monetary resources to grow both the complexity and scope of their activities.

In addition, following Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we can reasonably expect to see fraud used as a tool to continue interfering with elections. Adding uncertainty to election results over time could threaten individuals’ trust in representative government structures, so governments must take proactive steps to ensure that threats of these types are curbed.

2. The U.S. military will add a new branch to defend against cyber threats.

Considering the rapid growth in cybercrime, the government will need to take significant action to stop hackers from preying on citizens, businesses and governments. In 2019, the city of Baltimore fell victim to a ransomware attack that cost the city an estimated $18.2 million, including a $6 million ransom that was paid directly to hackers. Cybersecurity threats must be proactively addressed to ensure that attacks like these do not become more common across the public sector.

This branch will not be created out of whole cloth. U.S. Cyber Command has defended our country since its creation in 2009. If the Defense Department elevates U.S. Cyber Command to its own branch to defend against these types of attacks, it will require a clear definition of how to create a “cyber border,” which will include both offensive and defensive capabilities. The department will also need to re-evaluate a strategy for how it will monitor and protect against both foreign intrusion and financial fraud in the digital realm.

3. Governments will embrace cryptocurrency, dramatically changing tax administration as we know it. 

The 2010s introduced cryptocurrencies to the global marketplace, which to date have eluded any significant regulation outside of self-reported earnings. This means that most governments around the world are unaware of the total value and income made from their countries’ products and services because many people are now trading surreptitiously with cryptocurrency.

In the 2020s, expect to see governments explore embedding taxation structures in transactions to both measure and secure revenue from all the digital spending in cryptocurrency their respective economies. With new cryptocurrency laws, governments will also be able to track the life cycle of every dollar, from the creation of that dollar to where it gets spent, thereby providing additional visibility into cyber crime.

4. Governments will pass laws addressing bias in algorithms.

Algorithmic advancements from tech giants like Google and Amazon have revolutionized the way individuals access information by assuming certain traits of users based on their digital activity and historic data. However, many algorithms can unfairly target individuals based on extraneous information, which can have consequences for rights to privacy or access to resources.

In 2019, San Francisco effectively banned facial recognition software citywide, citing that the “excesses of technology” could pose threats to individuals’ right to privacy and unfair targeting based on physical attributes. While the unfair biases of facial recognition technology are largely based on computers misinterpreting certain physical attributes, algorithmic bias can also exist in search or analysis algorithms. For example, some banks will use advanced algorithms to determine if an individual is eligible for a loan based on where they live or their employment status, which can inject certain biases into the application process. Look for lawmakers to evaluate the equity of these algorithms for citizens in the 2020s.

5. “Computer vision” is the next battlefront in the war between law enforcement and fraudsters.

Using vision technology to analyze and interpret data has become increasingly popular for law enforcement and identity verification. In 2017, Customs and Border Patrol launched an advanced biometrics screening system to match travelers’ faces to their ID when going through customs. In law enforcement, similar computer vision applications are being used via body cameras. 

While efficient, the question remains whether these computer vision applications can be hacked or cheated. In addition, to ensure the functions of these technologies are working appropriately, the government needs to be able to protect this data from abuse and misuse as it is being collected, processed and stored. 

Shaun Barry is the global leader for government, healthcare and utilities at SAS.