Global citizenship is a truly epoch-defining term. It brings together questions relating to national belonging and new forms of government, on the one hand, and emergent trends in migration and economics, on the other. Crucially, it also illuminates the importance of new technologies. It is these technologies that may well come to have the most profound effect on the direction of the investment migration industry and its future growth.
One of the reasons that the question of technology is so critical in the global citizenship space is that, probably more than any other factor, it is technological development that has driven global interconnectivity in the 21st century. The internet has single-handedly dismantled geographic, temporal, and linguistic barriers among people in a way that would have seemed unthinkable just 30 years ago.
A global event in a global city
The UAE is currently emerging as a prominent foreign direct investment destination for AI and robotics, engaging new technologies in a significant amount of industries. Dubai, in particular, takes the lead in attracting investors and businesses.
Perhaps more than anywhere else in the world at present, the UAE epitomizes the relationship between technological development, passport power, and future readiness. The UAE passport has shot up the Henley Passport Index, from 62nd place in 2006 to 21st place today. The country is also one of the first in the world to pioneer the ‘smart gates’ model, which allows residents to enter the country using biometric identifiers instead of carrying a passport.
It should come as no surprise, then, that at the Henley & Partners 12th Global Residence and Citizenship Conference taking place in Dubai this November, there will be a special focus on innovation and technology. The technological theme of the conference — whose keynote speaker is Sophia the Robot — is particularly appropriate given its setting.
Forward to a technological future
The latest developments in cryptography, blockchain, and virtual reality are particularly exciting to those who share a vision of a future that encompasses genuine freedom of movement, holistic international relationships, and a shared sense of global humanity and purpose. In fact, the creation of new technologies that have the capacity to further connect and unite us are anathema only to those wishing to reinforce national differences and national borders.
Today, blockchain, cryptography, and other cutting-edge digital innovations are being used to promote privacy and self-sovereign identity for everybody, from high-net-worth-individuals to the world’s middle classes, to refugees. Residence and citizenship have gone virtual in countries such as Estonia; in Antigua and Barbuda, bitcoin, has revolutionized the way investors can purchase citizenship; digital biometric registration and iris scans are streamlining processing times in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, and in Saudi Arabia, Sophia the Robot has become the first ever non-human to be granted full citizenship, blurring the lines between technology and humanity.
On a more immediate level, the wide diffusion of mobile telephones across the globe has irreversibly enhanced the interconnectedness of the world population. There are today more mobile phones than people on the planet (with the UAE topping the per capita charts at nearly 2.5 phones per person). Mobile banking has facilitated financial and economic inclusion, along with the implementation of mobile healthcare and education, in turn paving the way towards a world without borders and restrictions. Thus, even for those at the thin end of the global economic wedge the world is becoming smaller and more accessible.
However, as with any new product development, markets breed competition. As technology continues to develop, therefore, it is also bound to generate conflict among those countries fighting to claim the top spot in the technological pecking order — including, most pressingly, China and the US, whose trade war is now in full force.
What shape will the battle for both digital supremacy and global citizenship take in 2019 and beyond? Which technological advances should we be excited about, and which, if any, should we pursue with caution? Will our common humanity win out in the end, or could the current climate of protectionist nationalism permanently erode the progress we have made? These will be some of the questions posed at the upcoming Global Residence and Citizenship Conference.
Bata Racic is Manager of Henley & Partners Dubai
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