Do we need a Paris Agreement for tech? Here’s what world leaders and tech chiefs say

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Gayle Markovitz, Editor, World Economic Forum


  • The potential for emerging tech to solve the world’s most pressing issues is equal to the challenge of mitigating the risks. These range from ethical issues to privacy and cybersecurity to freedom of speech.
  • Government and business leaders agree on the need for rules, or a framework for emerging tech.
  • There is consensus that this will require an intersectional, multistakeholder collaboration that cuts across nations and industries so that inconsistencies are avoided and inclusivity is prioritized.

The first Global Technology Governance Summit brings heads of state and business leaders together this week to address global rules for emerging tech. COVID-19 has spurred an acceleration of tech adoption and the governance urgently needs to catch up.

In 2015, 179 countries and the EU spent two weeks in Paris hammering out the final wording of an agreement to keep global temperature increase well below 2°C and if possible, below 1.5°C. It marked a global commitment to address one of the biggest challenges facing the world.

As the world now looks to a period of recovery, the urgency of a similar moment of global reckoning on tech governance has reached an inflection point.

Technology has been the solution to many of the crises of the past year but defining the rules around how we use it as we move forward will map future resilience. The immediate needs for a global framework around tech governance are multifaceted and increasingly compelling.

Tech innovation raises ethical issues. As technologies become more integral to organizational processes, the ramifications of their usage need scrutiny. Some applications, devices, and systems pose ethical dilemmas related to privacy or algorithmic bias, which risk exacerbating societal inequities while also carrying potential for reputational and even financial risks for organizations. Technology

What is the Global Technology Governance Summit?

Emerging and frontier technologies can help tackle social, economic and health challenges. But designed improperly, they could exacerbate the problems that they are intended to address.

For this reason, the World Economic Forum will launch its inaugural Global Technology Governance Summit on 6-7 April 6-7. The first-ever event will be hosted with Japan to create a collaborative neutral space where senior leaders, CEOs, board members, startups, innovators, entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers and civil society can come together to discuss and share issues related to the governance and protocols critical to new technologies.

With the growing dependence on technologies, it is also vital for businesses to tackle the rising threat of cybercrime and increase their cyber maturity. And in a world where social media is where many people get their information, and if we value freedom of speech as a cornerstone of democracy, what can be done to combat dangerous misinformation?

Digital inclusion is another area that requires close attention. Sheila Warren, Head of Blockchain and Data Policy at the World Economic Forum says, “The separation between who we are online and who we are in real life is so blurry, it’s almost meaningless… and yet 3.4 billion people in the world have no access to the internet at all.”

Tech governance is complex and multifaceted. The following perspectives from a range of leaders at recent events such as GTGS but also January’s Davos Agenda show the many issues that must be taken into account:

Bridging divides

S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information of Singapore calls for “a collective response from public, private and people sectors to bridge the divide, so everyone feels they’re a part of this digital future. It must involve all parties.” https://www.youtube.com/embed/juY8bsYfKdE?enablejsapi=1&wmode=transparent

His statement reflects an emerging consensus on the need for an intersectional approach to agree new rules to manage the risks and harness the potential of technology to transform and improve the way the world operates.

Among these challenges for setting standards is also a concerning blurring of boundaries between Big Tech and policy, where companies are empowered to make decisions without the requisite checks and balances. The tension between boardroom decision-making and parliamentary processes is undefined and requires a joint-up approach. It is a tension – but it is also something that public and private sectors seem keen to resolve.

Government’s new role

Suga Yoshihide, Prime Minister of Japan, in his special address at the start of the summit, highlights three actions for governments to push a just and equitable digital transition: making digital investments; preparing a sound competitive environment; and contributing to shaping the international order.

His focus on technology as a cornerstone for policy-making is echoed by leaders around the world. https://www.youtube.com/embed/val6D9Wv1zk?enablejsapi=1&wmode=transparent

Adapting for impact

Earlier this year at The Davos Agenda 2021, a range of leaders discussed tech’s impact on everything from citizenry to democracies. China’s President Xi Jinping called for a “people-centred and fact-based policy orientation, exploring and formulating rules on global digital governance.” The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, saidWe see fragility in cyberspace, with no consensus on how to take full profit of the digital world that we increasingly depend on.” The EU’s Ursula von der Leyen warned that “the business model of online platforms has an impact, not only on free and fair competition, but also on our democracies”. https://www.youtube.com/embed/haOuPSC1MEU?enablejsapi=1&wmode=transparent

Looking ahead

Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore, said, “Governments and businesses must look ahead and must collaborate to tap new markets and develop novel technologies. Externally, governments need to strengthen the framework for international cooperation”.

At this week’s summit, two important figures, had equally important messages on the future of technology – Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki – offered business insights into the “Technology Governance Outlook”.

For Benioff, he is optimistic that technology can be used to improve the state of the world. He sees climate change as a critical underpinning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and a means to harness data and use technology in ways that can make the world more sustainable. He welcomes the idea that CEOs are committing to transparent reporting and sharing of data when it comes to achieving milestones towards the SDGs, for example.

Benioff says, “When we think about climate change, we think about 4 elements. 1) Emission reduction – how do we emit less? 2) How do we sequester? How do we grab the carbon that’s already out in the environment? 3) How do we educate people on lifestyle practises to reduce climate change. And 4) How do we create new innovation and move things forward?” https://www.youtube.com/embed/xf0Z6_BQKPs?enablejsapi=1&wmode=transparent

Wojcicki calls for more consistency and more collaboration in governance and highlights the potential of technology to transform education and learning, job creation and enable significant medical advances. She stresses YouTube’s role as a video library, giving people access to information to enrich their lives in new and different ways. She explains how “Every creator is a next generation media company”.

How do we handle this tough topic – but do so globally and do it in a consistent way? —Susan Wojcicki, Chief Executive Officer, YouTube

She supports the fact that YouTube works closely with governments around the world and says there are significant laws around governance that do currently exist, but “there’ll be a lot more going forward”. The challenges, she says, are around “speech and what should or should not be allowed on platforms”, which is a “really tough area”. She identifies the content that is “legal but could be seen as harmful” as a particular problem. “This is harder for governments to regulate and it is also content that can change very quickly.”

She highlights the challenge of different rules in different jurisdictions, “a patchwork of different policy products”. But she says what has been really effective is working with different governments and expert organizations when they come together, “you really can get a good coalition to come up with ‘how do we handle this tough topic – but do so globally and do it in a consistent way?’”.

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