The emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have a vital role to play as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild our economies.
An essential consideration for government, business and civil society is how technologies are harnessed and regulated to accelerate growth, encourage innovation and build resiliency in the wake of COVID-19. How governments and other stakeholders approach the governance of technologies will play an important role in how we reset society, the economy and the business environment.
This report examines some of the most important applications of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies if we are to thrive in a post-pandemic world and the governance challenges that should be addressed for these technologies to reach their potential.
The technology areas it focuses on are artificial intelligence, blockchain, internet of things, mobility and drones and unmanned air systems.
Using tech to recover from the pandemic
Efforts to recover from the pandemic have triggered a tsunami of innovations in work, collaboration, distribution and service delivery – and shifted many customer behaviours. AI and data analytics have helped Taiwan, China predict the risk of infection. China has used drones and robots to minimize human contact. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is using blockchain to provide seamless digital services to its citizens, and the United States is using autonomous vehicles to deliver test samples to processing labs.
But mind the gaps
There are significant governance gaps, including issues of privacy, liability, cross-border regulatory discrepancies and the potential for misuse by bad actors – such as the recent surge in ransomware attacks enabled by cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin or the risk of abuse posed by technologies like “deepfake” videos.
Bridging the gaps with new governance models
Regulatory agility has become increasingly important in the COVID-19 era, as governments ease restrictions to accelerate the development of new treatments and technology – such as autonomous delivery drones – to address the pandemic.
Singapore’s AI governance framework can assist the private sector by providing guidelines on internal governance, human involvement, operations management and stakeholder communication. In Japan, the Financial Services Agency has accorded the Japan Virtual and Crypto Asset Exchange Association (JVCEA) the status of a self-regulatory body for the country’s crypto exchanges – recognizing the private sector’s role in providing effective governance. Countries such as New Zealand have introduced guidelines that incorporate privacy, human rights and ethical concerns into the design of government algorithms.
Tech governance effectiveness themes
Preparation mitigates risks
As 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.
Common themes of governance that is working include:
- Ethical governance - Many countries have developed ethical governance frameworks that provide guidelines on how to develop emerging technologies responsibly.
- Public-private coordination - Government needs 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 - Typically, regulations are not “future-proof”. They tend to be prescriptive in nature, take months or years to enact, require the review of extensive public comments and stay rigid once created. In contrast, technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are often developed in agile sprints, beta tested on early adopters and swiftly updated.
- Experimental: sandboxes and accelerators - Sometimes regulators simply observe the consequences of a new technology in the safety of an isolated environment.
- Data sharing/interoperability - Since many technologies rely on data to refine their operations – especially those employing AI and data analytics – more data should mean better results.
- Regulatory collaboration - Because emerging technologies permeate national boundaries – while also giving rise to second- and third-order effects rippling out from innovation – regulating them calls for collaboration among agencies within a country as well as cross-border collaboration.
There are a number of gaps in the regulation of technology that present significant risks in the short, near and long term, but there is significant work to be built upon to mitigate those risks. Good governance, whether through policy, norms, protocols or standards, is being piloted around the world to accelerate the benefits of technology. These examples can serve as a starting point to address the biggest risks in technology governance today to use technology to recover from the fall-out of COVID-19.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.
The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.
The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.
Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.
Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.
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