Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs embraces digital diplomacy and artificial intelligence

Posted on February 20, 2018

 As technology advances, the work of diplomacy stretches to Twitter, Instagram, and even A.I.

The Australia-Indonesia Centre’s Digital Economy Fellow Helen Brown sat down to discuss the future of diplomacy with Director of Sesparlu Odo Manuhutu.

In the three years that Pak Odo has been the Director of the Senior Diplomatic Course for Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he has pioneered a strong focus on digital diplomacy.

“Diplomats, by definition, should be adaptable to different circumstances and environments,” Odo says. “Nowadays we are living in a digital world. It is paramount for diplomats – especially the senior ones – to use the technology that is available to all of us.”

Members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who join the course are taught how to effectively utilise social media, and even learn a little coding, to help them interact with the public and other diplomats.

“First, the idea is that they get used to summarising ideas in the classes very succinctly,” he explains.

“That’s a challenge for some people. Because, diplomats, we have a certain way of writing and talking – we try to be indirect in many ways. On Twitter, you can’t do that.”

While delivering messages on social media can be fraught, Odo reinforces the trust he has in those who do the course.

“You’re adults, you have to be responsible for what you say,” he says. “We trust them that, for whatever they tweet or whatever they put on social media, they are responsible for it and they have to be thoughtful.”

Odo is also petitioning for foreign ministries around the world to embrace the streamlining opportunities that will come from utilising artificial intelligence.

“It helps us filter all the noises,” he explains. “If we have to answer all the questions on a daily basis, you can put on 100, a thousand people, it won’t be sufficient.”

“We can’t compete with artificial intelligence; it’s impossible. We just have to harness it.”

As artificial intelligence leads to more efficient and comprehensive gathering of data, it means diplomats can primarily be interpreters of that data.

“Deep, in-depth analysis, that’s the nuance and that is what the technology cannot do in comparison to human beings,” he says.