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Dr Chae-Sub Lee has been participating in the work of ITU since 1987, where he has been as Director of Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) since 2014. Ahead of the ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference, Telecom Review Asia interviews Dr Chae-Sub Lee, candidate for the position of Deputy Secretary-General of the ITU to learn about his aspirations and plans for ITU and the global industry.

 Can you share with us your role in ICT standardization in the past three decades?

My first attendance in the world of ICT standardization arena was in 1987 at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations for ICT development. I contributed  to various areas of network digitalization and evolution: telephone network digitalization, global information infrastructure (GII), next-generation networks (NGN), fixed-mobile convergences (FMC), IPTV, cloud computing and future networks. Thanks to my career trajectory, my contributions to ICT standardization have always been aligned with network developments and their influence on other ICT domains.

In the course of my career, I undertook almost all of the roles involved in ITU’s standard development process as an editor for drafting standards, a rapporteur for working on specific issue areas, working party chairman, focus group chairman, and study group vice-chairman and chairman. The most memorable of my contributions was in setting the frameworks of the Information Society from 1994 to 1997, which laid the foundation for when a broadband-based information society was launched. My proudest achievement was the development of the Next Generation Networks to transform telephone networks to all IP based networks.

 In 2014, I was elected as the Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) of ITU at the Plenipotentiary Conference. Since then, I have focused on extending ITU-T’s reachability to many related communities, such as digital financial inclusion, e-health, smart cities, intelligent transport. I have devoted my efforts to enhancing ICT infrastructures among which, ultra high-speed optical networks, Network-2030 and machine learning in 5G. I am very proud that ITU has become a central, and open platform on artificial intelligence related issues under the theme of “AI for Good.”

Overall for the past 34 years, I have enriched my knowledge of technology/market developments and extended community networks.

 If you were to become the deputy secretary-general of the ITU in the coming election, what are the core strategies you aim to implement to bring to fruition ITU’s vision?

My vision as a candidate for the deputy secretary-general of ITU is “Building a trusted ICT platform.”

At the upcoming PP-22, the ITU leadership will be elected for the next four years cycle. The leadership team will be instrumental to the lead up to 2030, the target year for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. The SDGs are crucial targets for all UN organizations, including ITU. I believe that ICTs make significant contributions to all 17 goals, particularly good health, quality education, gender equality, industry, innovation and infrastructure, sustainable cities and climate actions.

 As a candidate, my attention is most focused on Goal 17 – global partnerships. The ITU should cooperate among and between UN organizations, member states, and the private sector to meet the SDGs. One of the most critical challenges for ensuring such global cooperation is tackling “How to build trustworthy relationships?” Therefore, ITU should undertake the role of the “trustworthy ICT platform” in terms of collaboration with partners as well as in the use of ICTs.

My strategies is building “a trustworthy ICT platform” and strengthening ITU’s collaboration.

 Firstly, I will navigate ITU’s contribution to building a resilient global ICT eco-system and act as a bridge for harmonizing ITU members, as well as other international organizations and partners, industries, academia and civil society.

 Secondly, I will continuously monitor, upgrade and strengthen the core competencies of ITU’s in-house capabilities as a specialized agency for ICTs to ensure better productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, integrity, and accountability.

Last but not least, I will enhance collaboration between the general secretariat of ITU with and among the three bureaux and their respective Directors to maximize and systemize the synergy of various ITU activities to strengthen one ITU.

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation but also revealed the need to bridge a digital divide and resolve growing ICT risks. What can be done at an international level to address these pressing global issues?

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most pressing challenges of our time and has highlighted the critical importance of ICT/telecommunication infrastructures and services.

Can you imagine how the world would be without communication during and after the pandemic? Can you imagine how we could maintain our everyday daily lives without ICT?

However, ICT infrastructures do not yet have a global reach. Half of the world’s population is still not connected. Additionally, some ICT services are too difficult for many people, particularly the aged and those who need specific assistance. Moreover, ICT is also a part of concerns and risks due to fake news, misbehavior online, digital gaps, generation gaps, security, privacy, trust, and safety issues.

The ITU in its capacity as a specialized agency of the UN for ICT developments will address these and will raise awareness of ICT and the essential role they play in day-to-day life, activate various collaboration partnerships deploying ICT infrastructures, encourage ICT industries and developers to provide solutions to bridge multiple gaps from the beginning, before the gaps form.

Based on the principles of consensus-based and contribution-driven, how can the ITU deliver socioeconomic benefits to countries in today’s digital age?

ITU is a member states-based UN specialized agency for ICT and a unique in the UN system having members from the private sector. Today, ITU members represent the “multi-stakeholder model" with 193 member states, over 800 industry members, more than 150 academic members, and many members from civil society.

ITU has a long history of a "contribution-driven and consensus-based" operating principle. ITU members believe this spirit is the fundamental framework for multi-stakeholder organizations such as ours. I agree and firmly believe that this spirit is essential for building trusted relationships requiring mutual understanding and patience.

Consensus building takes time, there can be concerns about “missed opportunities.” However, a decision by consensus is powerful and has enormous influence, especially in the case of implementing international agendas. I believe that one of the key roles of ITU should be to ensure that “everybody, without exception, should gain from the socioeconomic benefits of ICT.” ITU should be an open platform to transmit ICT developments globally and a trusted platform to share the benefits of ICTs.

Why is it important for ITU to ensure reliable and trustworthy ICT infrastructure?

ICTs are being developed faster than expected. 5G is already here, and AI with big data/IoTs influences our daily lives ever more profoundly, and is leading to digital transformation, which is becoming the mainstream for innovation in our society. Without a doubt, ICT is an essential part of our lives, and people/organizations rely more and more heavily on them.

We are seeing a rapid individualization of our society where the value of community is relatively weakened in relation to its importance. But more recently, building a sustainable society and addressing environmental issues have become key topics of our time. Restoring our ability to work together to achieve our common goals is becoming more important and is being emphasized.

I believe, in this regard, the importance and value of “trust” is being recognized as a critical element. More recently, I have seen in the engineering sector that the topic of “trust” has become more than a concept and is being increasingly accepted as a reality. As I highlighted, ICT infrastructures are not yet universal, and ICT services are still inaccessible to many. Moreover, ICT also has its concerns and risks.

I am sure that the use of reliable ICTs and access to trustworthy information are essential requirements for human life. For the social and economic development of the world today and beyond, building a dedicated environment based on reliable ICT infrastructures and services is of utmost importance.

How do platforms like AI for Good help accelerate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and promote collaboration amongst stakeholders?

A recent study in Nature (entitled “The role of AI in achieving the SDGs”) shows that AI can directly impact and enable the accomplishment of 134 targets (out of 169) across all 17 goals. For example, AI can help in: map poverty from space; predict natural disasters; detect diabetes and skin cancer using a smartphone; provide customized learning programs; increase agricultural productions, reduce by 1.3 million deaths annually on our roads; and detect fraud and fake news.

Every day we see countless new promising use cases emerging through AI for Good, an open platform organized and managed by ITU in collaboration with many UN sister agencies, funds and programmes. Anyone who needs help finding a solution will join and share the problems at hand – a problem shared is a problem halved. Likewise, anyone with solutions or willing to take on the challenge to find them and solve problems can also share their experiences.

AI for Good is an “all year, always online” platform. There are no geographical barriers; all that is needed is ICT capability and capacity. This allows stakeholders to quickly get together and collaborate to find solutions.

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