The world is now a different place since the pandemic started and it will only change as time goes by as individuals and organisations undergo significant technological transformation accelerated by the crisis. In fact, we are right now in the process of adapting to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, wherein various cutting-edge technologies are emerging.
Such technologies can either make or break society, depending on how people and businesses will use them and how willing are they to follow rules and regulations in utilising them. Governments, enterprises and civil individuals, together, are in charge of how these technologies can harness growth in the present and future.
In a report, titled Global Technology Governance Report 2021, WEF and Deloitte stated that the possibilities of new Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, deployed appropriately, should be used as the baseline to reinvent the way we operate in the new context.
This includes Artificial Intelligence (AI); mobility (including autonomous vehicles); blockchain; drones; and the Internet of Things (IoT), in which the WEF found common challenges across on the report. When governed by its potentials, WEF said these five technologies could help many industries from government services, education and healthcare to the way businesses interact with and provide value to their customers.
Recovering From the COVID-19 Pandemic
Throughout history, crises and disasters have compelled society to innovate in order to survive in difficult times. The pandemic we are experiencing now is not any different.
Various efforts to recover from this pandemic allowed a plethora of innovations in work, collaboration, distribution and service delivery – and shifted many customer behaviours, habits and expectations.
WEF listed that among these are the five technologies listed earlier, which according to them have been at the centre of these innovations and are likely to play a dominant role in what emerges post-pandemic.
These technologies, however, as much as they have the potential to realise growth and breakthroughs, can also be the catalyst of unintended and adverse consequences to society.
“AI does not quite fit into existing regulatory frameworks. International blockchain ledgers may violate current national financial laws. Drones and IoT have the potential to cause privacy concerns. Autonomous vehicles may transform traditional assessments of safety risks. All of these disruptions translate into a suite of technologies and capabilities poised to slip through gaps in governance”, explained WEF.
That is why it is important for everyone, from individuals to corporates and governments, to observe good technology governance, policies and norms, which can be the foundation in realising the benefits of technology while minimising its risk.
Gaps in Technology Governance
According to the report, the major challenge in new technologies and business models of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that they do not fit easily into the frameworks that regulators have traditionally used to supervise markets.
WEF added that they evolve rapidly, cross traditional industry boundaries, devour data, defy political borders and benefit from network effects when they share information. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, old conceptions of regulatory siloes no longer apply.
In the study, WEF listed seven technology gaps that cause such problems:
Limited or lack of regulation: When developing transformative technologies, innovators tend to put the sake of performance first over anything else. As a result, they may become unprepared for the consequences in the long-term, since they did not think of regulations surrounding the technologies. An example of this is an innocent person wrongfully arrested because of a faulty facial recognition system and regulatory bodies were caught unprepared due to the lack of regulations in issues arising from such technologies.
Adverse effects of technology through misuse or unintended use: Many technologies today are making our lives much easier, but in the wrong hands, it could be a disaster. For example, bitcoins were made to revolutionise the method of payment but it also accounted for more than 90% of ransomware payments made globally in the first quarter of 2019.
Liability and accountability of the technology: Some technologies utilise AI, machine learning and algorithms that feed on data and, in return, will give specific insights and actions for the users. A lot of them are autonomous, making decisions by themselves. The problem now is - who would be accountable for their actions if the worst comes to the worst? If an autonomous car crashes, it would be difficult for legal systems to identify which of the manufacturer, software designer and driver has the responsibility.
Privacy and data sharing: We can say that the Fourth Industrial Revolution centres around one crucial asset: data. Since technologies need data to function properly, entities also need to collect data wherever they can – and this causes a major concern in privacy. According to the report, there is still little in the way of technical standards or governance frameworks to regulate how such data can be dispensed.
Cyber and other security concerns: As technologies become more powerful, they can also be used to enhance the effectiveness of cyber attacks. AI, if misused, can create adverse effects using algorithms to create harm to people. Sensitive information can also be breached and used for blackmailing purposes.
Human supervision: Smart technologies are supposed to minimise the involvement of humans in their operations, whether it is an automatic robot or algorithm for making decisions. However, when talking about critical cases, just how much should people be involved? Some technologies can malfunction, leading to unintended effects but people being involved in a supposed autonomous system can be counterproductive.
Cross-border inconsistencies and restricted data flow: Every nation has its own rules and for technologies, especially those needing data, it could mean a restriction in their deployment. This is why developers need to think of a way to regulate technology in different ways – and it could lead to complexity and further delay of development.
Ways to Regulate Technology
“As these new technologies continue to evolve, regulators should anticipate their needs and risks. While it’s not always possible to get ahead of evolving technology, it is possible to prepare”, said WEF in their report.
This is why everyone – from governments to individuals – should think of principles, rules and protocols that promote innovation while addressing these gaps and governing these new technologies. With that, WEF and Deloitte came up with six innovative governance frameworks to regulate technology in maximising its benefits and avoiding potential risks.
Ethical governance: It is vital for a nation as a whole to implement various regulations in the ethical use of technologies so that it will be followed and set as a standard for other entities. In fact, many countries have now developed ethical governance frameworks that provide guidelines on how to develop emerging technologies responsibly. An example is the European Commission released guidelines for contact-tracing apps developers, complying with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Public-private coordination: Of course, the collaboration between public and private entities is essential to fully realise the potentials of technologies. According to the report, governments need to protect the public from harm and provide stewardship for new technologies, while companies need to take responsibility for their social obligations.
Agile, responsive regulation: Technologies tend to evolve at a very fast pace and regulations may not be able to keep up, leaving them with outdated insights. Also, regulations take a long time before they are enacted. Regulators need to think of approaches that will complement the changing times. An example would be how the hospital industries implemented telemedicine services during the pandemic.
Experimental: sandboxes and accelerators: As with any other research prototypes, technologies need first to be tested in a controlled and isolated environment to study its potential and possible risks. Sandboxes allow the creativity of developers to further think of additional features of a technology before it is widely used.
Data sharing/interoperability: Technologies relying on data to function can progress more if entities around the world share their data, as it means acceleration for technologies. WEF stated that there are now countless initiatives across the globe that focus on how to vastly accelerate improved data sharing within ethical guardrails.
Regulatory collaboration: According to the report companies need a standard framework and guidelines at the international level to operate effectively on a global scale. “Because emerging technologies permeate national boundaries regulating the calls for collaboration among agencies within a country as well as cross-border collaboration”, WEF added.