Convergence

Updates

A court in London, the UK, has granted Uber a 15-month 'probationary' licence to operate in the British capital. The licence, which is shorter than the five-year licence that the company applied for last year and was denied by the Transport for London (TfL) authority, is subject to several strict conditions. The company is asked to implement a new governance structure, notify TfL of its operations in areas that may be of concern, report safety-related complaints, and have an independent assurance audit report every six months. Uber is also required to demonstrate that it has changed its policies and ways of operation, as a condition to maintain its right to operate in London.

At an event in San Francisco, USA, IBM has presented an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can engage in reasoned arguments with humans on complex topics. Called Project Debater, the system was designed to debate around 100 topics, in a pre-determined debate format: a four-minute introductory speech, a four-minute rebuttal to the opponent's arguments, and a two-minute closing statement. Project Debater, trained in advance on debating methods, but not the details of the debates, relied on a collection of 300 million news articles and academic papers (previously indexed) to construct its case. While it was noted by several observers that some of the points made by the system were either quoting sources or merely reusing parts of articles, the system also tried to 'directly argue with points that its human opponents made, in nearly real time'. IBM explains on its website that Project Debater 'digests massive texts, constructs a well-structured speech on a given topic, delivers it with clarity and purpose, and rebuts its opponent'. The company estimates that, at the moment, the system could have a meaningful debate on the 100 topics it was designed for about 40% of the time. The overall objective of the project is to 'help people reason by providing compelling, evidence-based arguments and limiting the influence of emotion, bias, or ambiguity'.​

On 18 June 2018, the European Commission hosted a high-level meeting with representatives of European philosophical and non-confessional organisations, on the topic 'Artificial intelligence (AI): addressing ethical and social challenges'. Chaired by the Commission's Vice-President Andrus Ansip, the meeting addressed the potential impact of AI on fundamental rights such as privacy, dignity, consumer protection, and non-discrimination. It also explored the impact of AI on social inclusion and the future of work. Ansip reminded participants that the European Commission is working on 'ethical guidelines for the development of AI for good and for all' and that the elaboration of these guidelines 'requires an open discussion on key issues such as the importance of diversity and gender balance in AI to avoid biased decisions'. The guidelines are expected to be finalised by the end of 2018.

In May 2018, more than 30 US-based civil society organisations sent a public letter to Amazon, asking the company to stop providing its facial recognition system – Rekognition – to the US government. This month, several Amazon shareholders wrote to the company's CEO Jeff Bezos, expressing concerns over Rekognition and the selling of the technology to US law enforcement agencies. The shareholders are concerned about the potential use of Rekognition to 'ultimately violate civil and human rights' and 'to unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of colour, immigrants, and civil society organisations'. The letter also outlines concerns over the potential sale of the technology to foreign governments, including authoritarian regimes, which may use it to 'identify and detain democracy advocates'. The company is asked to 'immediately halt the expansion, further development and marketing of Rekognition' to all governments until guidelines and policies are in place to safeguard human rights.​ [21 June update] According to media reports, Amazon employees are also asking the company to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement agencies.

A team of researchers from DeepMind has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that brings AI agents closer to being able to understand 3D spaces. The system, called the Generative Query Network (GQN), empowers machine with the ability to learn to represent scenes using only their own sensors. The system uses images of a scene taken from different angles, constructs an internal representation based on this input, and uses the representation to predict the appearance of that scene from a new, arbitrary angle. Existing AI systems can also perform scene representation, but they need to be provided with large amounts of labelled datasets, making human input a requirement. The GQN does not need such labelled data: it uses its sensors to 'look' at static images of a scene and reconstruct a reasonably accurate 3D representation of it. As explained by Techcrunch, this ability 'is critical for robots, especially because they have to navigate the real world by sensing it and reacting to what they see'. The developers of GQN acknowledged that more work is needed before the system can be deployed in the real world, but noted that the achievement 'represents one step closer to understanding how we may build agents that learn by themselves'.​

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that uses wireless signals to 'see' through walls. Called RF-Pose, the system uses a deep neural network to spot human motion using radio frequency (RF) signals reflected from people's bodies. To create the system, the researchers collected, via a wireless device and a camera, examples of people walking, talking, sitting, etc. The images were then used to extract 'stick figures' which were fed to the neural network with the corresponding RF signal. Trained with this data, RF-Pose is able to estimate human postures and movements without the need for a camera, and only based on the wireless reflections that bounce off people's bodies. According to the researchers, this radio-based system is almost as accurate as the vision-based system used to train in, and it can estimate 2D poses through walls without being trained on such scenarios. As explained by The Inquirer, the system could be used in search and rescue operations after natural disasters, and for medical purposes.

Historically, telecommunications, broadcasting, and other related areas were separate industry segments; they used different technologies and were governed by different regulations. The broad and prevailing use of the Internet has aided in the convergence of technological platforms for telecommunications, broadcasting, and information delivery. Today, we can make telephone calls, watch TV, and share music on or via our Internet-connected devices. Only a few years ago, such services were handled by different technological systems.

In the field of traditional telecommunications, the main point of convergence is represented by Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. The growing popularity of VoIP systems such as Skype and Viber is based on lower price, the possibility of integrating data and voice communication lines, and the use of advanced PC- and mobile-devices-based tools. With YouTube and similar services, the Internet is also converging with traditional multimedia and entertainment services. Such services – which use the Internet as the delivery platform – are known as over-the-top (OTT) services.

 

Convergence is also discussed in relation to new business models enabled by the Internet, such as the sharing economy, which, in general terms, involves the use of digital platforms for the provision of ‘offline’ services (e.g. Uber for transportation, and AirBnB for accommodation). With advancements in the areas of the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, the integration of these new technologies into existing products, services, and business processes is also increasingly seen as a matter of convergence.

While this digital convergence is going ahead at a rapid pace, more and more attention is paid to the related economic and legal implications.

The economic implications of convergence

At the economic level, convergence has started to reshape traditional markets by putting companies that previously operated in separate domains, into direct competition. While new business models are emerging, existing ones see themselves threatened. For example, traditional telecom operators have been complaining about the fact that OTT services threaten their businesses; mobile telephony service providers, in particular, have seen drops in the usage of classical voice services, as customers are now more inclined to use VoIP services.

Faced with such challenges, companies take different approaches. Some insist that the competition brought by OTT services is unfair, as OTT providers are in most cases not subject to the same complex regulatory provisions. Others have taken proactive measures, by, for example, changing their business models to introduce new services to compensate for those less used. Another frequent strategy consists in merger and acquisition, when smaller, new-on-the-market OTT providers merge with or ar acquired by larger companies. In a more recent approach, OTT and telecom providers have started to conclude partnerships aimed to bring advantages to both sides: for telecom providers, partnerships with OTT providers bring them a competitive advantage, as well as added value for end-users; OTT providers, on the other hand, would have their services easier to find and access, thanks for partnerships with carriers. These models, however, raise concerns related to their compliance with the network neutrality principles, in cases when, for example, carriers choose to offer their clients unlimited and/or free access only to some OTT services.

Convergence has in many cases lead to fears of the ‘Uber syndrome’ among business leaders: the scenario in which a competitor with a completely different business model enters the industry and flattens competition. Such was the case when Uber entered the taxi market by innovating on the technological aspect; as a consequence, traditional taxi companies and drivers, who businesses were threatened, filed lawsuits in courts across the world in protest against the new unregulated entrant in the market. At the EU level, for example, the Court of Justice of the European Union was asked to determine whether Uber could be considered a transport service provider, or a digital platform facilitating the provision of information society services. Courts were also asked whether Uber drivers are independent contractors or Uber employees.

Regulation in a converging environment

The legal system was the slowest to adjust to the changes caused by technological and economic convergence. Each segment – telecommunications, broadcasting, and information delivery – has its own special regulatory framework. This convergence opens up several governance and regulatory questions:

  • What is going to happen to the existing national and international regimes in such fields as telephony and broadcasting?
  • Is there a need for new regulatory regimes that focus mainly on converged services? Or should they be subject to the same regulatory frameworks as, for example, traditional electronic communications services?
  • When it comes to competition and consumer protection, what rules, if any, should be imposed on providers of converged services?
  • Should the regulation of convergence be carried out by public authorities (states and international organisations) or through self-regulation?

At international level, governance mechanisms are mainly used for the exchange of best practices and experiences. The International Telecommunication Union's Development Sector (ITU-D) has a study group on the converging environment. The Council of Europe has a Steering Committee on Media and Information Society, covering one aspect of convergence: the interplay between traditional and new digital media.

At national level, countries are addressing convergence in various ways. Some countries, such as several EU member states, India, and Kenya have chosen flexible approaches towards regulating convergence, by simply addressing the issue from the perspective of net neutrality: users should be allowed to choose any type of applications or services provided over IP networks. Other countries have created new legal and regulatory frameworks for converged services. In Korea, for example, IPTV services are subject to legal provisions in terms of licensing requirements and service obligations. The EU is also exploring the introduction of legal obligations for providers of OTT services and the conditions under which such providers should be subject to the same regulatory requirements as traditional telecom operators. In some countries, convergence is addressed through self-regulation. And there are yet other countries – such as Belize, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco – which have chosen, at one point or another, to explicitly ban OTT services through regulation, or to ask that access to such services is blocked by telecom providers.

Events

Actors

(GCSP)

As part of its Emerging Security Challenges Programme, the GCSP has a

...

As part of its Emerging Security Challenges Programme, the GCSP has a cybersecurity cluster which tackles cybersecurity issues through education and training activities, as well as policy analysis and events. The cluster also provides a platform for dialogue and exchanges on cyber challenges, among cyber experts from the public, private, and civil society sectors. The training and education activities cover areas such as cybersecurity strategy formulation, cyber diplomacy, and broader capacity building initiatives (e.g. workshops and student challenges). Policy papers produced by the GCSP examine issues such as computer network defence, future challenges in cyberspace.

(OECD)

Convergence is one of the digital policy issues that the OECD is paying attention to, especially in relation t

...

Convergence is one of the digital policy issues that the OECD is paying attention to, especially in relation to the challenges this phenomenon brings on traditional markets, and the need for adequate policy and regulatory frameworks to address them. In 2008, the organisation issued a set of policy guidelines for regulators to take into account when addressing challenges posed by convergence. In 2016, a report issued in preparation for the OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy included new recommendations for policy-makers. Digital convergence issues have been on the agenda of OECD Ministerial meetings since 2008, and are also tackled in the regular OECD Digital Economy Outlook report.

(ITU, UIT)
...

The ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) develops international standards (called recommendations) covering information and communications technologies. Standards are developed on a consensus-based approach, by study groups composed of representatives of ITU members (both member states and companies). These groups focus on a wide range of topics: operational issues, economic and policy issues, broadband networks, Internet protocol based networks, future networks and cloud computing, multimedia, security, the Internet of Things and smart cities, and performance and quality of service. The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA), held every four years, defines the next period of study for the ITU-T.

(GSMA)

Net neutrality is one of the digital policy issues the GMSA is paying attention to.

...

Net neutrality is one of the digital policy issues the GMSA is paying attention to. The organisation, which represents the interests of the mobile industry, is of the view that, while the open character of the Internet should be preserved, technical and commercial flexibility for networks is essential. The four main issues the GSMA focuses on when it comes to net neutrality include traffic management, service prioritisation, zero rating, and tariff flexibility. The GSMA promotes its views through papers and other publications, as well as through advocacy activities. For example, it has been a constant contributor to the net neutrality debates and consultations taking place in the EU, USA, and Latin America, among others.

(UNECE)

UNECE, through its subsidiary body CEFACT, has been involved, together with the Organization for the Advanceme

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UNECE, through its subsidiary body CEFACT, has been involved, together with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, in the development of the Electronic Business using eXtensible Markup Language (ebXML) standard. ebXML contains specifications which enable enterprises around the world to conduct business over the Internet, as it provides a standard method to exchange business messages, conduct trading relationship, communicate data in common terms, and define and register business processes.

(EC)

Over-the-top services, next generation networks, the collaborative economy, and artificial intelligence are am

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Over-the-top services, next generation networks, the collaborative economy, and artificial intelligence are among the issues the European Commission is paying particular attention to. The Electronic Communications Code proposed by the Commission in September 2016 plans to introduce some level of regulation for OTT services. Encouraging the deployment of NGN networks able to better support the provision of converged services is a priority for the Commission, as part of its Broadband Strategy and Policy. The EU executive body has also issued guidelines and policy recommendations for the collaborative economy, while its Digitising European Industry strategy identified artificial intelligence and robotics are cornerstone technologies to be supported.

Instruments

Standards

ETSI standards dealing with convergence issues (2016)
Recommendation ITU-T Y.2001 - 'General overview of NGN' (2004)

Other Instruments

Resources

Articles

How the Sharing Economy can Make its Case (2015)
Universities Have a Choice - Partner with Industry, or Watch their Best Minds Disappear (2015)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

Reports

Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2017 (2017)
A New Regulatory Framework for the Digital Ecosystem (2016)
Outthinking Disruption in Communications (2016)
Report on OTT Services (2016)
Connectivity: Broadband Market Developments in the EU (2016)
Over-the-Top Players (OTTs) (2015)
Redefining Boundaries - The Global C-suite Study (2015)
Trends in Telecommunication Reform 2015 - Getting Ready for the Digital Economy (2015)
OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015 (2015)
Wired up: The convergence of Technology, Media and Entertainment (2015)
Regulation and Consumer Protection in a Converging Environment (2013)

GIP event reports

Public innovation and smart regulation for the 2030 Agenda (2018)
Session 3: Policy and regulation perspective – Privacy and beyond (2018)
Roundtable Discussion: AI for Development (2018)
Leadership Debate: Emerging Technologies for Digital Transformation (2018)
Opening Session and Session 1: AI and Cybersecurity – The State of Play (2018)
Session 4 – Ways forward and closing (2018)
Session 2: AI and IoT – Exploit the potential for building confidence and security in the use of ICTs (2018)
Applying Technology to Reinforce Security and Promote Development (2018)
Artificial Intelligence, Ethics, and the Future of Work (2018)
Competition in a Data-driven World: How to Ensure Sustainable Growth? (2018)
Implementations of AI to Advance the SDGs – Panel 4: Safe and Secure AI (2018)
Projects in Action: Towards AI and Data Commons – Part 2 (2018)
Projects in Action: Towards AI and Data Commons – Part 1 (2018)
Ideas for Impact: AI Breakthrough Team Project Pitches (2018)
Collaborating and Investing in Beneficial AI (2018)
Celebration of the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day AI-Powered Moonshots – Meet the Astronauts (2018)
Building Trust for Beneficial AI – Trustworthy Systems (2018)
AI for Outbreaks, Emergency Response, and Risk Reduction (2018)
Storytellers (2018)
Building Trust for Beneficial AI – Developer Communities (2018)
AI Fostering Smart Government (2018)
AI Empowering Smart Citizens (2018)
AI + Smart Cities and communities (2018)
Building digital competencies to benefit from existing and emerging technologies with a special focus on gender and youth dimensions (2018)
Transformations on the Horizon (2018)
How to Keep AI from Slipping Beyond Our Control (2018)
AI for Good Global Summit – Opening Keynote (2018)
Killer Robots in the Battlefield and the Alleged Accountability Gap for War Crimes (2018)
[Side-event] The Human-Machine Relationship: Lessons from Military Doctrine and Operations (2018)
[Side-event] Meaningful Human Control of Weapons Systems (2018)
[Side-event] Defining Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) - Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (2018)
[Side-event] Article 36 Reviews and Emerging Technologies: The Case for Autonomy in Weapon Systems (2018)
Disrupting Development through Science, Technology and Innovation (2018)
Expert Workshop on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age (2018)
Where and How to Protect Legal Interests in the Digital Era (2017)
Remedy against the Machine (2017)
Are Emerging Technology Innovations Driving Better Access to Remedy in Global Supply Chains? (2017)
GPW 2017: Summary of Discussions on Conflict Prevention and New Technologies (2017)
The Future of Work (2017)
The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Conflict Prevention: Will it Polarize or Unite? (2017)
Looking Ahead: What to Expect in the Cyber Realm (2017)
Can we put artificial intelligence at the service of mankind? (2017)
Artificial Intelligence, Justice and Human Rights (2017)
Report for EBU Big Data Conference 2017 (2017)
Report for Think Tank Talk - The Uberisation of the Labour Market (2017)

Other resources

Exploring Digital Convergence: Issues for Policy and Legislation (2015)

Processes

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UNCTAD 2018

  • 12:30 - 14:00
    Platforms as an Orchestrator of Digital Re-organization: Strategizing for Long-term Development Impact

WSIS Forum 2018

12th IGF 2017

WTO Public Forum 2017

WSIS Forum 2017

IGF 2016

IGF 2015

IGF 2016 Report

 

Several sessions at IGF 2016 tackled issues related to convergence and over-the-top (OTT) services. It was stressed that any regulations in these areas should consider the need to foster innovation and future market development (Are We All OTTs? Dangers of Regulating an Undefined Concept - WS191). Human rights aspects also need to be taken into account, especially when it comes to blocking access to services such as Voice over Internet Protocol - VoIP (VoIP Crackown: Implications for Gov, Telecom & Civil Society - WS262).

 

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