WEF 2019: A Global Reset for the Tech Sector?

Posted on 6th February 2019

After 3200 attendees gathered in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, here are some key takeaways from the four days of discussions.

The WEF’s “Globalisation 4.0” theme brought together civil society and political and business leaders to address the key challenges and opportunities posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the global architecture of the economic, geopolitical, and ecological landscape.

Confirming that technology has become a constant topic at Davos, panellists discussed the potential of big data, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things. Unlike previous editions, however, pundits were far less optimistic about the global digital governance framework, and with good reason.

With recent privacy scandals and the wave of new regulation, such as the GDPR, participants recognised the necessity of improving the global data governance while preserving optimal rates of innovation and economic growth. Heads of state, policy-makers, and corporate leaders agreed on elaborating a sustainable, ethical and accountable governance framework, but diverged on strategies.

Lawmakers, with the EU at the forefront, pushed an approach of robust regulation but business leaders continued to call for self-regulation for new technologies, arguing that as the world becomes increasingly digitalised and technologies more complex, it is up to the business community to step up and partner with institutions to find equitable solutions.

In particular, much discussion on how ethics could be embedded into algorithms, and whether this could be accountable. One notable call was for an International Charter of Online Human Rights, mirroring the current 1948 UN Charter, and generally business leaders called upon others to assess their own values and generate new social norms.

Less optimistically, with alarming geopolitical tensions from the US-China trade war and the consequences on the tech sector,  the wider international community is expected to take action towards developing international minimum standards on the ethics of digitalisation. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the audience that the G20 summit, to be held in Osaka on 28-29 June, will prioritise this issue.

What emerged from Davos was a sense of cautious optimism from attendees, even if that risked being overshadowed by an address from the far-right authoritarian populist President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro and other representatives from governments less keen on Davos’ vision in Italy, Austria and the US. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to tangible improvements in the global governance of technology in the year ahead.


Author: Julian McNeil, Access Partnership

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