IGF crash-course on emerging technologies

25 Nov 2019 16:05h - 18:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Business Action to Support the Information Society (BASIS) initiative organised a ‘crash course’ on emerging technologies in order to discuss their definitions, functions, potentials, and consequences for the economy and society. The aim of this session was to allow experts to introduce important technologies; the session also opened the discussion to the audience, both online and on location, to help people become better equipped and better able to join conversations around the IGF.

The overarching theme of the IGF session can be summed up with the sentence: ‘You govern things you do not fully understand’.

The following questions were introduced: What is this thing called artificial intelligence? Does 5G harm health? Where is blockchain in the Gartner hype cycle? Do smart cities exist or is this just branding? These are the questions people ask when they hear about these technologies. The features that unite these questions are governance, ethics, security and privacy, and the importance of addressing these issues as connectivity between technologies rises.

‘Transformation happens when the infrastructure meets the demands’, noted Ms Maarit Palovirta (Regulatory Affairs Director, ETNO (European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association)). In the future, telecommunications will be brought into one large network, architecture will evolve, speeds will be faster, ultra-low latency communications will become essential in emergency situations, such as a skilled surgeon offering services remotely, or fire brigades having a better understanding of a scenario before they go into the field. In short, 5G will bring change on the service delivery level. This future will not happen without investment leaps, which, in turn, need support from regulatory frameworks, including spectrum auctions, streamlined procedures, and shared telecommunications infrastructure.

‘The Internet of Things (IoT) is essentially the digitalisation of the physical world’, according to Mr Ben Wallis (Regulatory Policy Analyst, Microsoft). For example, the IoT and its application in farming will lead to data-driven precision agriculture. Today’s white space routers offer a high bandwidth connection needed to analyse the data to predict what the future will look like, applying technologies to gain insights from that data, with possibilities to revolutionise agriculture and farming. It will also bring new cybersecurity risks, which could affect large areas and industries.

When it comes to blockchain, the technology is mostly appealing due to the idea of decentralised nodes that form a solid, immutable structure. Resilience, traceability, transparency, immutability, anonymity, and avoiding intermediaries have been understood through monetary value, but the versatility of its applications are much broader. The advanced, meaningful uses are only now starting to be developed, including uses in the supply chain, digital identity, automatising contracts, and university certification. In the opinion of Mr Christoph Steck (Telefonica), legal regulatory compliance is missing for decentralised systems, which prevents public blockchains from becoming broadly present in society.

Combining all the technologies mentioned above, smart city projects rest on intelligence based on gathered data in order to make optimal decisions for various services and appliances. According to Ms Svetlans Grant (Smart Cities Development Projects), smart cities are imagined versus what has actually happened historically and where cities are now. While the first wave of these projects has happened, one of the most common issues of smart cities is that very few can prove the business case and invest on a longer scale. Most current applications tend to be connected to the management of water (conservation) and air pollution. But in order to provide the potential of future applications, the technologies used need to have a low cost, be able to retrofit, have a long life span, be secure, and provide open and accessible data. Security and privacy need to be built by design, from chip and hardware, to network, to storing data on the cloud and maintenance.

These issues have became a common thread among the various technologies discussed. Concerns from the audience rounded up the discussion, bringing questions regarding consequences of wrong automated decisions and prevention of a digital divide in machine learning and bias in AI, with a broad understanding that these questions are only just starting to be asked in the process of governing a world of connected unknowns.

By Darija Medić