Leadership Debate: Emerging Technologies for Digital Transformation

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The second day of the Global Symposium of Regulators started with the opening remarks of Mr Houlin Zhao (ITU Secretary-General) who talked about regulation in relation to the digital economy. The agenda then moved to the leadership debate. It brought together leaders and experts to discuss the challenges of using artificial intelligence (AI) as well as the opportunities it brings, and how emerging technologies are expanding regulatory frontiers to new horizons. The role of policy makers and regulators is being questioned by digital transformation and the new categories of digital opportunities. This session explored the opportunities of AI for improving services such as e-government. With this opportunity in mind, it is necessary that regulators are able to address the different concerns related to the changing landscape, by identifying both the challenges and opportunities. The session was moderated by Mr Brahima Sanou (Director of International Telecommunication Union, BDT) who introduced the session topic by underlining the ‘huge’ opportunities of emerging technologies, while pointing out the need for awareness.

The first speaker, Mr Sorin Grindeanu (President ANCOM (Romania) and GSR-18 Chair), talked about 5G technologies and the spectrum allocation for implementing them. He used the example of Romania drafting its 5G strategy to highlight that the rapid growth of wireless broadband requires a wireless electronic communications network. Millions of people will be connected, and a new range of applications will be available. The regulation process has to be able to harmonise standardisation.

The second speaker, Mr Ajit Pai (Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States), recalled that the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was coined sixty years ago by Prof. John McCarthy in his research to find a machine that could reason like a human; indeed, he believed that ‘to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it’. Speaking about the opportunities created by AI, he mentioned an FCC project to develop new technology to assist people living with disabilities, and Seeing AI, one of this year’s winners. It is an app by Microsoft that uses AI and deep learning tools to narrate the visual world with spoken audio or real-time text for those with visual impairment. Pai said that he recognises that AI is changing every social and economic aspect of our society. With this in mind, the FCC will hold a forum on the impact of AI and machine learning in the communications market. He then proposed some guiding principles that would set the stage for a policy environment that encourages the development of new technologies and high-speed networks. First, regulatory humility is needed to avoid new technology being forced into old frameworks. Second, governments should facilitate innovation and investments. Third, making the spectrum for wireless services free and available for flexible use. Finally, make the access to new technology universal.

The third speaker, Mr Mahmoud Mohieldin (Senior Vice President of the World Bank Group), argued that there is a need for strategy and policies to deal with opportunities and challenges of information technology. He added three examples of resistance to change and resistance to technology: the reaction of the former Mexican President, Santana, who was against the introduction of steam engines; England’s prohibition of automated machines in sock production; and the initial concerns about Jakar machines. He then moved to more recent successful example – the M-Pesa mobile phone payment system – used in Kenya. His main point was that at the moment, it is enough to have one specific strategy. There is a need for a global and comprehensive approach and strategy. He introduced the three ‘Bs’ concept: building, boosting and brokering through the implementation of public-private partnerships. Finally, he talked about some positive applications of emerging technologies, such as big data for social good and the IT4D.

The fourth speaker, Ms Anastassia Lauterbach (Author of ‘The Artificial Intelligence Imperative’, and International Technology Strategist Adviser and Entrepreneur), argued that AI is one of the most powerful technologies. Indeed, she pointed out that among the ten top companies in the world, five are ‘AI first’: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon. The ‘AI first’ feature can be defined as the focus on investing in their own semiconductors to provide hardware capabilities for data mining. These companies are investing in fundamental AI research. She talked about three main risks than could be encountered while dealing with AI: design mistakes – biases in technology reflecting the technology’s creator; malicious intent – unethical behavior of the system; and, the absence of humans in the collecting and analysing of data. This led her to address concerns over the ethics of AI, related to the governance of AI safety, the decision-making guidelines for autonomous systems, the incentive design for autonomous systems, and the goal alignment between autonomous agents and humans. Finally, she concluded her speech by discussing social governance in AI, which includes actors such as municipalities, schools, AI companies and organisations.

The session was closed by Dr Kemal Huseinovic (Chief of the Department of Infrastructure, Enabling Environment and E-Applications at the ITU/BDT). He argued that everything we love about civilisation is a result of human intelligence; and AI can foster that. The more we rely on technology, the more we need to trust this technology and the question on how we can ensure this trust is not only essential, but it raises ethical issues that require the engagement of policy makers.

Author
Stefania Grottola
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