Artificial intelligence: Policy implications, applications, and developments

​The field of artificial intelligence (AI) has seen significant advances over the past few years, in areas such as smart vehicles and smart buildings, medical robots, communications, and intelligent education systems.

For example, several companies are working towards enabling self-driving cars, new automatic translation tools are being developed, and researchers are proposing AI-based technologies for various purposes such as detection of abusive domain names at the time of registration.

Internet companies are also increasingly developing AI tools to respond to different needs. Jigsaw, a Google initiated start up, has been working on Conversation AI, a tool aimed to automatically detect hate speech and other forms of verbal abuse and harassment online. Facebook has built an AI program, called DeepText, that could help catch spam and other unwanted messages, and is using AI to combat the spreading of terrorism content via its network. 

These and other similar advances are expected to have implications in several policy areas (economic, societal, education, etc), and governments and private sector actors worldwide are increasingly considering them.

Artificial intelligence

The policy implications of artificial intelligence

The policy implications of AI are far‐reaching. While AI can potentially lead to economic growth, there are growing concerns over the significant disruptions it could bring to the labour market. Issues related to privacy, safety, and security have also been brought into focus, with calls being made for the development of standards that can help ensure that AI applications have minimum unintended consequences. 

Economic and social

Al has significant potential to lead to economic growth. Used in production processes, AI systems bring automation, making processes smarter, faster, and cheaper, and therefore bringing savings and increased efficiency. AI can improve the efficiency and quality of existing products and services, and also generate new ones, thus leading to the creation of new markets. For this potential to be fully explored, there is a need to ensure that the economic benefits of AI are broadly shared at the level of the society, and that possible negative implications are adequately addressed. 

One such possible implication is related to the disruptions that AI systems could bring on the labour market. Concerns are raised that automated systems will make some jobs obsolete, and lead to unemployment. Such concerns have led to discussions about the introduction of a 'universal basic income' that would compensate individuals for disruptions brought on the labour market by robots and other AI systems. 

There are, however, also opposing views, according to which AI advancements will generate new jobs, which will compensate for those lost, without affecting the overall employment rates. One point on which there is broad agreement is the need to better adapt the education and training systems to the new requirements on the jobs market. It is also often underlined that adapting the work force to the AI requirements does not mean only preparing the new generations, but also allowing the current work force to re-skill and up-skill itself.

Safety and security

Artificial intelligence applications in the physical world (e.g. in transportation) bring into focus issues related to human safety, and the need to design systems that can properly react to unforeseen situations, and have minimum unintended consequences. AI also has implications in the cybersecurity field. On the one hand, there are cybersecurity risks specific to AI systems. As AI is increasingly embedded in critical systems, they need to be secured to potential cyber-attacks.

On the other hand, AI has applications in cybersecurity; the technology is being used, for example, in email applications to perform spam filtering, but it is also increasingly employed in applications aimed to detect more serious cybersecurity vulnerabilities and address cyber-threats.

Artificial intelligence - Internet of Things - Big data

Privacy and data protection

AI systems work with enormous amounts of data, and this raises concerns regarding privacy and data protection. Such concerns are well illustrated by the increasingly important interplay between AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), and big data.

AI provides ‘thinking’ for IoT devices, making them ‘smart’. These devices, in turn, generate significant amounts of data – sometimes labeled as big data. This data is then analysed and used for the verification of initial AI algorithms and for the identification of new cognitive patterns that could be integrated into new AI algorithms. In this context, developers of AI systems are asked to ensure the integrity of the used data, as well as embed privacy and data protection guarantees into AI applications. 


As AI algorithms involve judgements and decision-making – replacing similar human processes – concerns have been raised regarding ethics, fairness, justice, transparency, and accountability. The risk of discrimination and bias in decisions made by AI systems is one such concern, as illustrated in the debate that has surrounded Jigsaw’s Conversation AI tool.

While potentially addressing problems related to misuse of the Internet public space, the software also raises a major ethical issue: How can machines determine what is and what is not appropriate language? One way of addressing some of these concerns could be to combine ethical training for technologists (encouraging them to prioritise ethical consideratins in the creation of autonomous technologies) with the development of technical methods for designing AI systems in a way that they can avoid such risks (i.e. fairness, transparency, and accountability by design).

Researchers are carefully exploring the ethical challenges posed by AI and are working, for example, on the development of AI algorithms than can 'explain themselves'. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has launched a Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems, aimed at contributing to ensuring that technologists are educated, trained, and empowered to prioritise ethical considerations in the design and development of intelligent systems.


One overarching question is whether AI-related challenges (especially regarding safety, privacy and data protection, and ethics) call for new legal and regulatory frameworks, or whether existing ones can be adapted to address them. Adapting current regulation is seen by many as the most suitable approach for the time being. Governments are advised that, when considering regulatory approaches towards AI, attention should be paid to ensuring that such approaches do not hinder innovation and progress.

Aspects related to accountability and liability in AI systems are also viewed as important legal issues to consider, and questions are raised as to the legal status of AI machines (i.e. robots): should they be regarded as natural persons, legal persons, animals or objects, or should a new category be created?


The applications of artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence has been around for many years. Launched as a field of research more than 60 years ago, AI is now shaping the so-called fourth industrial revolution. AI is implemented in many areas. Let’s take a look… Turn to page 8 of Issue 22 of the Geneva Digital Watch newsletter [pdf, 2.1Mb]

Latest developments on artificial intelligence

28 JulyResearchers work on empowering AI with imagination

20 JulyChina releases AI development plan

19 JulyUK Parliament launches inquiry into AI implications

19 JulyIEEE to develop standard for personal data AI agent

12 JulyMicrosoft launches AI for Earth initiative and Research AI lab

11 JulyResearchers able to identify specific neurons responsible for AI decisions

3 JulyChina is developing a national AI plan

26 JuneCERN is deploying AI to protect its grid from cyber-threats

21 JuneAI being used in payment fraud prevention for e-commerce

20 JuneUS Congress working on federal legislation for autonomous cars

15 JuneFacebook talks about using both AI and human expertise to tackle online terrorism content

12 JuneResearchers try to make AI safer by having algorithms learn from human feedback

12 JuneResearchers call for guidelines on AI accountability

16 MayPartnership on AI expands and launches initiatives focused on AI challenges and opportunities

25 AprilUK Royal Society calls for careful stewardship over machine learning

6 AprilGoogle proposes ‘federated learning’ to address privacy concerns in AI solutions

4 AprilLaw needs to adapt to an emerging AI-driven workplace, report says

20 MarchResearchers use artificial intelligence to identify racist code words on social media

16 MarchGoogle’s AI solution learns to retain previous knowledge

1 MarchGoogle’s AI tool for spotting online abuse can be deceived, researchers show


Explore the issues

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) includes a wide range of Internet-connected devices, from highly digitalised cars, home appliances (e.g. fridges), and smart watches, to digitalised clothes that can monitor health. IoT devices are often connected in wide-systems, typically described as 'smart houses' or 'smart cities'. IoT triggers a multitude of policy issues, from standardisation to protection of privacy. Learn more about Internet of Things



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... Learn more about Convergence


Content policy

One of the main sociocultural issues is content policy, often addressed from the standpoints of human rights (freedom of expression and the right to communicate), government (content control), and technology (tools for content control). Discussions usually focus on three groups of content: ... Learn more about Content policy


Privacy and data protection

Privacy and data protection are two interrelated Internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy. Privacy is usually defined as the right of any citizen to control their own personal information and to decide about it (to disclose information or not). Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ... Learn more about Privacy and data protection


Freedom of expression

Several international instruments guarantee the right to freedom of expression. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that this right includes the freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas. The Internet, with the opportunity it offers people to express themselves, ... Learn more about Freedom of expression



With the Internet moving into the mainstream of modern society, the question of taxation has come into sharper focus. It has become even more important since the financial crisis in 2008. Many governments have been trying to increase fiscal income in order to reduce growing public debt. The taxation of economic activities on the Internet became one of the first possibilities for increasing fiscal income. Learn more about Taxation


Economic – other issues

The impact of the Internet on businesses and the global economy has been crucial in shaping new economic models, and at the same time, raising new concerns. The Internet is one of the primary drivers of economic growth, which is visible in many countries that have placed the development of ICT as one of the primary tools for boosting the economy. Learn more about Economic – other issues


Labour law

It is frequently mentioned that the Internet is changing the way in which we work. ICTs have blurred the traditional routine of work, free time, and sleep (8+8+8 hours), especially in multinational corporation working environment. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish where work starts and where it ends. These changes in working patterns may require new labour legislation, addressing such issues as working hours, the protection of labour interests, and remuneration. Learn more about Labour law



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