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Queen Rania Calls for More Mindful Use of Technology at Web Summit in Portugal

Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah cautioned against humanity’s mounting reliance on technology and called for an increased focus on improving the lives of the most vulnerable, asserting that “the real progress we need is not better machines, but for all of us to be better humans.”

Her Majesty made her remarks while delivering a keynote speech at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal on Wednesday, during a session titled “Battling Built-In Biases.” This year marks Jordan’s first participation in the annual summit, which is the largest tech event in Europe and one of the largest in the world.

Her Majesty explained that we are “hooked” on our devices, citing the Digital 2022 Global Overview Report’s findings that, last year, the daily average of time spent online went up by four minutes per day, which, each year, “adds up to one whole day per person.”

“I am concerned that we’re undervaluing the most precious currency of all – our time,” Her Majesty stressed. “I am concerned that, even as virtual reality improves by the day, we’re neglecting the needs of our actual reality. And our mental health is suffering, too.”

Her Majesty also pointed out that, while the world’s response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis has shown how much we can achieve through joint action, there has been a marked “difference in generosity, tone, and urgency” from that extended to refugees from countries such as Syria, South Sudan, and Myanmar.

“It’s hard not to wonder if skin color and religion affect the global community’s humanitarian instincts… and whether the impulse is to lend a helping hand or look away,” she asked. “Addressing that prejudice isn’t an algorithm’s job. It’s up to us.”

Queen Rania recommended investing more time toward “building a common concept of truth,” explaining that the rapid spread of misinformation and a media ecosystem “where clicks reward conflict over credibility” have undermined our trust and our tolerance for nuance.

She called on the audience to consider other points of view than their own, explaining, “There isn’t one right way to do the right thing or get the right results. There’s always a third way, and finding that path shouldn’t have to feel like a sacrifice or a compromise. Sometimes it’s about taking the best of both options to create something new both sides can believe in.”

Her Majesty called on her audience to “reclaim human agency,” on the grounds that “more and more, we’re depending on our devices not simply for distraction but for direction.”

“The more we delegate decision-making to AI, the fewer choices we’re making for ourselves. Intentionally or not, we’re giving up our own process of reflection and discernment, and that’s a risk,” she explained.

Following her speech, Queen Rania participated in a fireside chat on stage with CNN Senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen, where they discussed several issues, including the unequal global response to refugee crises around the world.

“It is frighteningly simple for the human mind to tune off the suffering of others, particularly when they do not seem to be like us, or when they have names that we find difficult to pronounce,” Her Majesty said. “That kind of choosey compassion – that selective kind of empathy – has real, tragic geopolitical consequences. It's a blind spot in our humanity; it determines where we look and what we see.”

“We can't be responsible, in a sense, for our subconscious bias. But we are held liable when we allow these biases to dictate policy,” she noted, adding that more refugee crises are on the horizon due to climate change, which will “probably displace upwards of 200 million people by 2050.”

The Queen also encouraged the tech community to play an instrumental role in alleviating the suffering of refugee populations. “The biggest selling point for technology is the fact that it transcends borders at a time when our world, unfortunately, keeps erecting them,” she said. “Refugees, on a daily basis, face legal, cultural, linguistic, economic barriers, and you all can develop solutions that can help overcome those barriers.”

While at Web Summit, Queen Rania met with representatives of a number of participating Jordanian startups present at the global event from the fields of gaming, medical information systems, artificial intelligence, drone-based solutions, and cloud-based video editing which operate in the local and global tech scenes.

First launched in 2010, the Web Summit is the largest tech event in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Taking place this year between November 1-4 under the theme, “The Next Generation of Leaders,” the event welcomes more than 100,000 people from across the globe. In addition to Her Majesty, this year’s speakers include Sir Martin Sorrell, world-renowned author Naom Chomsky, Brad Smith of Microsoft, and the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

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