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New technological revolution poses challenges to state governance

LI FENG | 2019-03-07 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The new technological revolution is an important force driving the modernization of state governance, but it poses challenges to the government at the same time. Photo: FILE


With the in-depth development of the internet and information technology, a new round of industrial revolution represented by big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and quantum communication is taking hold. The revolution is dubbed as the fourth industrial revolution. In the keynote speech to the 2017 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “Unlike the previous industrial revolutions, the fourth industrial revolution is unfolding at an exponential rather than linear pace.”

The new technological revolution has generated tremendous influences on economic development, social governance, national administration and daily life, and it has become an important force driving the modernization of state governance. New technologies have kept a comprehensive and dramatic impact, having effects at deep levels and from multiple angles. This poses challenges to state governance.


Technology and government 
The government needs to form a certain structure to perform corresponding functions, so it should enhance its capacities by strengthening self-management, improving its structure and minimizing costs.

In history, each technological revolution helped the government upgrade its governance techniques and accelerate structural optimization. In the first two industrial revolutions, the second in particular, technological advances made it possible to expand the governance scale and enrich its functions, considerably extending the space and time for exercising those functions. The governance system characterized by “rational-legal bureaucracy,” a theory put forward by German sociologist Max Weber, gradually took shape, while the form of organization became more professional, hierarchical, regulated, dehumanized and technology-based.

In the third, especially the fourth industrial revolution, the thriving of the internet has exerted a great influence on the government’s behavioral model. With the continuous development of information technology, the government can grasp much more information, hence its advanced capability of scientific decision making and extended administrative functions.

In the meantime, however, the evolving government system places more and more demands on departmental cooperation and data sharing, posing challenges to the professional division of labor among departments and raising new requirements for deepening governmental collaboration and building an integrated government.

The new technological revolution has challenged labor division among departments horizontally and bureaucracy vertically. In Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives, American scholar John Naisbitt pointed out that information has a great power for placing people on an equal footing. The computer will smash the hierarchical pyramid, and with the computer to keep track of personal and commercial information, organizations will no longer need hierarchies, Naisbitt said.

In the current technological revolution, the transparency as a result of big data and artificial intelligence and the bureaucracy of the government are in conflict. The decentralization or multicenter advocated by block chain no longer stresses the vertical hierarchy. Whether the trend will bear on the government’s structure and form of organization deserves contemplation.


Economic administration
Administrating the economy is one of many government functions. Economic administration reflects the government’s responsibility for market entities and activities in certain environments, so the function will necessarily change with the characteristics of market entities and behaviors in market activities.

From a historical perspective, after the first industrial revolution, capitalist governments adopted the factory production model, breaking away from workshop-based labor. Accordingly, economic regulations implemented for the feudal system, such as the practice of likin tax, were cast off.

In the second industrial revolution, technologies like electromagnetic waves, electric power and rail significantly expanded market space, as a nationwide manufacturing market came into being, along with corporate trusts, bringing a huge impact on society. Thus, strengthening market regulation was the main content of economic administration for the government during the period.

After the third industrial revolution, the government put less emphasis on micro entities. With stronger abilities in macroeconomic management, it administered the economy through macro control and by remedying market failures.

In the fourth industrial revolution, new businesses such as big data, artificial intelligence and the internet of things have emerged, injecting new momentum and vitality into the real economy to boost the total factor productivity and promote economic restructuring. However, data available indicate that the new technologies prefer capital to labor, so how to stabilize the labor market in the process of economic administration is a crucial task facing the government.

In addition, the fourth technological revolution exemplified by artificial intelligence is multidisciplinary and highly complex. How to properly handle the relationship between professional economic administration and comprehensive new businesses and how to regulate and interact with platform-based enterprises are the economic administration issues of the era.


Social administration
As a state apparatus, the government must administer social public affairs, deal with its relations with social groups and citizens, and maintain the stability of social order.

Historically, the government’s administration over social public affairs has deepened continuously. After the first industrial revolution, many governments paid attention only to the security of social order, attending little to the survival of laborers and their working conditions. Meanwhile, the revolution led workers’ groups to grow and the working class to awake.

Under pressure, capitalist governments began to focus more on labor welfare. In the face of big trusts arising from the second industrial revolution, they turned their attention to social security and citizens’ welfare, laying more emphasis on the provision of social public services. Urban governance was gradually incorporated into the spectrum of government responsibilities.

As the fourth industrial revolution progresses, technologies like big data and artificial intelligence are being integrated into social administration increasingly closely. The all-around application of the technologies can help the government better grasp the demands of citizens and heighten the level of intelligence in social administration.

For example, the field of city management has embraced such notions as smart management and sophisticated management. With the construction of smart road networks, grids and transportation, the security and efficiency of public administration has been enhanced, while managerial costs and error rates have been reduced. Interactive and convenient big data along with precise analysis of artificial intelligence helps identify social administration targets more accurately and allocate public resources more reasonably.

It is worth noting that smart cities and intelligence-based administration have also presented challenges to social governance. The model based on artificial intelligence and information technology sets more daunting tasks regarding privacy protection and harbors greater uncertainties.

Moreover, the impacts of the new technological revolution on various social groups might be uneven and bring about new inequalities, which requires the government to beef up the supply of social public goods, thereby providing an institutional guarantee for technological development and ensuring fundamental equality.

Also, bourgeoning new technologies like the mobile internet in the fourth revolution make it more convenient for the public to air their views and elevate their needs for democracy, their consciousness of rights and their ability to appeal. In other words, the technological revolution has empowered the government and citizens at the same time, spurring the former to constantly upgrade its governance abilities and levels. However, the convenience for the public to express their opinions puts the government under greater pressure to respond, which might affect the distribution of government attention in related decision making. Less important events with a large influence on public opinion are more likely to enter policy agenda.

All in all, the new technological revolution is engaged in a two-way interaction with the government. While the latter determines the depth and range of the former’s application, the technological revolution also affects, even determines the model of governance to some extent.

The new technological revolution is accompanied by new political phenomena. For instance, non-state actors are playing increasingly important roles in state governance and the exercise of public power; and it is necessary to redefine traditional national boundaries and concepts of state.

In this context, how the government adapts to the ongoing development of network technologies, how it enhances its transparency and flexibility while ensuring governance efficiency, how it guarantees the supply of social public goods and values, and how it creates a flexible, cooperative and innovative governance model are big questions facing the government in the new technological revolution.


Li Feng is from the Teaching and Research Department of Politics and Law at the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC (National Academy of Governance).

edited by YANG XUE