World needs better tech governance, say WEF MD

Mr Jeremy Jurgens, the World Economic Forum’s managing director and head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, says change must happen if tech gains brought about by the acceleration of digitalisation are to benefit the many.

SINGAPORE - As the Covid-19 pandemic spread rapidly last year, so did the world's reliance on technologies, which in turn accelerated disruptions in business, increased pressure on digital infrastructure and connectivity and brought up underlying inequities as well as exposed data vulnerabilities.

All of these must be more effectively addressed if tech gains are to benefit many, said Mr Jeremy Jurgens, World Economic Forum's managing director and head of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, who is spearheading the Forum's Global Technology Governance Summit (GTGS) that kicks off on Tuesday (April 6).

It is WEF's inaugural summit on the issue. Over 2,000 leaders from government, business and civil society will gather until Thursday for the virtual meeting, which is jointly hosted with Japan. Participants will discuss key issues such as ethical artificial intelligence, blockchain and data privacy together with other technologies powering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The discussions will be a key feature of talks when the World Economic Forum (WEF) meets in Singapore in August.

"What we've seen over the last year is that the pandemic has accelerated a number of the technological and social shifts that were already under way, but it just made them more prominent and more pronounced and exacerbated, and this touches on everything from the virtualisation of services and experiences," Mr Jurgens told The Straits Times.

"(This) also put huge demands on our digital infrastructure, on our connectivity. And unfortunately, our infrastructure and our connectivity has not been equally placed, so the pandemic has also highlighted or exacerbated some of the underlying inequities and inequalities that take place there," he said, adding that it is important now to understand the challenges and opportunities during the pandemic.

GTGS discussions will see stakeholders dive deep into several issues, including the future of data economy, artificial intelligence (AI) and mobility as well as measures to close the digital divide, making data work for all, getting to net zero and countering harmful content.

The one that deserves the most scrutiny, from the view of impacting people's lives, is that of the governance of data and the ability to secure it such that it is used for its intended purposes and is not being misused, said Mr Jurgens.

Machine learning and AI that power several other domains are the next most important, he said.

"So if you're living in Singapore or Indonesia or Malaysia, if you have an AI radiologist, was it trained on people with similar backgrounds and say, genetic basis, or is it potentially trained in the Silicon Valley or in London, where it doesn't necessarily represent the audience that's using those services? I would look at AI machine learning as the second most important area for us to consider," he said in an interview with ST.

"The question is, do we have processes in place that when a new situation emerges that we can quickly understand the implications, develop an approach on how we can address that and quickly put it into action. And this is where it's important (to have) what we call a kind of a multi-stakeholder approach.

"We live in a deeply interconnected world and the richness of that dialogue and discussion can help us create, say, more effective approaches that are also more equitable and more fair to everybody."

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who is also the Republic's Minister in Charge of the Smart Nation Initiative and a co-chair for this meeting, will lead discussions on Technology Governance Outlook and Rebuilding the Trust to Travel, on Tuesday.

ST will host a panel discussion on "Shaping the Future of AI" at the meeting.

Tech editor Irene Tham will discuss the issue with Mr Mark Brayan, CEO of AI data company Appen, and Mr Vilas Dhar, president and trustee of Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, USA - a philanthropy bridging the frontiers of AI, data science and social impact. Also in the discussion are Dr Haniyeh Mahmoudian, global AI ethicist with AI platform DataRobot, and Dr Jason Matheny, deputy assistant to the US President for technology and national security.

Key technology governance gaps

Challenges emerging across technologies powering the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

• Limited or lack of regulation: There's a lack of preparedness for long-term consequences of artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies

• Adverse effect of technology through misuse or unintended use: Bad actors have new tools to influence the public or unjustly harm individuals, organisations and governments

• Liability and accountability of the technology: Assigning accountability of technologies such as autonomous systems or blockchain-based anonymous organisations

• Privacy and data sharing: Absence of shared technical standards or agreed-upon governance frameworks for sharing information

• Access and use by law enforcement: Lack of rules on how law enforcement agencies can use data generated by technologies

• Cyber and other security concerns: Without a market incentive to build secure Internet of things products, markets risk encouraging a race to the bottom of technological insecurity

• Human supervision: Lack of clarity about how much human involvement there needs to be in AI-powered systems.

• Cross-border inconsistencies and restricted data flows: As multiparty, cross-border business models proliferate, the authorities will need to know which laws govern transactions, decision rights, consensus and IP.

Source: Deloitte analysis; WEF Global Technology Governance Report 2021