At Davos, a Call for Worldwide Oversight of Tech, Including AI

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, several countries’ leaders called for a global regulation of technology. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose country is chair of the Group of 20 nations (G20) this year, said he would push for an international system to oversee use of data when the group meets for its annual June summit in Osaka. Abe he would like the Osaka G20 to be “the summit that started worldwide data governance,” with a focus on expanding World Trade Organization rules to include data.

The New York Times reports that another world leader echoing Abe’s concerns about global data regulation was South Africa president Cyril Ramaphosa, who said the topic would be on the African Union leaders’ agenda. German chancellor Angela Merkel called for an EU “common digital market” as well as “international oversight of data usage … to head off opposition to the entire tech sector from those who fear the current pace of technological change.” Chinese vice president Wang Qishan “also cited a need for more international coordination in oversight of the tech sector, but did not mention personal privacy.”

The four leaders’ remarks “did not appear to represent a coordinated effort to push forward a new international architecture for oversight … nor were they consistent in citing which tech sectors might merit further international rules.” Unlike the U.S., which “has largely deferred to the tech behemoths of Silicon Valley … European governments have advocated much greater limits on how companies can use data,” most notably with passage of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Neither Merkel nor Abe however, provided details on what the rules would look like, although Abe did suggest broadening WTO rules and Merkel “specifically listed the need for ethical standards in artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, and the handling and ownership of data.” She also noted that if Europe wants to be a leader in creating international data standards, it would need to become “an important actor” in the industry.

TechCrunch reports that, at the World Economic Forum, leaders expressed concern “about the potential for artificial intelligence to exacerbate huge inequalities across the world,” specifically as some countries implement AI systems, leaving behind those that do not. Columbia president Iván Duque Márquez, Salesforce chair/chief executive Marc Benioff and Chinese venture capitalist/AI expert Kai-Fu Lee “backed a new WEF initiative to expand its network of ‘Centres for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’ [C4IR] to Columbia and other emerging economies.”

The WEF created the C4IR as a center for “global, multi-stakeholder cooperation to develop policy frameworks and advance collaborations that accelerate the benefits of science and technology.”

“The fourth industrial revolution holds great promise in the creation of new jobs, new ways to cure disease and relieve suffering,” said Benioff. “But on the other hand there’s a risk that it will worsen our economic, racial, gender and even our environmental inequalities.” He noted that, “today, only a few countries and companies have access to the best AI in the world.”

“We must ask ourselves, is this the kind of world want to live in?” he concluded.