LONDON – Tensions over what to do about China. Differences on how to approach artificial intelligence. Graphic warnings on how to keep children safe online.
POLITICO’s first Global Tech Day moved from the geopolitics of technology to granular policy-making on both sides of the Atlantic as officials and politicians gathered in London on Thursday to discuss often thorny digital topics that have become central to political debate in Washington, Brussels and other Western capitals.
Not everyone agreed on what to do.
Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz has urged Congress to steer clear of AI regulation, primarily because, in his own words, the Beltway “doesn’t know what it’s doing” about the emerging technology. In contrast, senior official Lucilla Sioli of the European Union, the 27-nation bloc that is on the verge of completing a comprehensive AI settlement, applauded the way Brussels had taken over to regulate a technology that caught the public’s attention.
Here are three takeaways from POLITICO’s Global Tech Day:
1) What to do with China?
Mark Warner, the Democratic senator from Virginia, was clear: China is leading the way in artificial intelligence – and the United States needed to catch up. Speaking at the event, China’s leading hawk said Washington needed to up its game if it was to defend its national security interests against its geopolitical rival.
“China is way ahead of the game in terms of AI self-regulation within its own nation-state,” he said.
Still, David Koh, chief executive of Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency, urged caution in deteriorating relations with Beijing, mainly because the small Asian country’s economy was heavily dependent on its larger neighbour.
The concept of de-risking – a US initiative to insulate China from the global economy and emerging technologies, in particular – was complex for smaller economies in the Asia-Pacific region, as many had long-standing ties with the second largest country in the world. economy.
“Our concern is that risk reduction, taken too far, will affect the current status quo,” he added.
2) Keeping people safe online
Regulators in the EU, Australia and the UK – but not currently in the US – are pushing ahead with sweeping new plans to hold social media companies more accountable for what’s posted online. line.
Julie Inman Grant, the US-born head of Australia’s eSafety Commission, the local regulatory body that oversees that country’s regime, told how tweens across Australia are now being extorted after criminal gangs forced them to post explicit photos of themselves online.
In the first three months of 2023, the former Twitter executive added, her agency received three times the number of reports of sexual exploitation compared to the same period last year.
“It’s pretty appalling out there and what young people are going through is not what childhood should be like,” Inman Grant said of the rise in reports of children being sexually extorted online.
Jeremy Godfrey, executive chairman of Ireland’s Coimisiún na Meán, the country’s watchdog that will enforce parts of the EU’s Digital Services Act, or General Online Content Regulation, said that it was less about censoring specific pieces of content. Republicans in the US House of Representatives are currently investigating whether the federal government, platforms and outside researchers worked together to silence right-wing voices.
Still, for Godfrey, the focus should be on overhauling how social media platforms have handled the tidal wave of material that has often pushed potentially vulnerable users towards graphical and harmful content.
“It needs to be treated largely as a systemic issue,” he said. “It’s about regulating how platforms manage the risks of harmful and illegal content online.”
3) We don’t know what we don’t know
Throughout the day, officials and politicians called for a more passive approach to tech rulemaking or called for tougher regulation on topics ranging from telecommunications to digital currencies. The United States has preferred less regulation, while the EU has become the de facto digital policeman of the Western world.
But Cruz summed up what many in the audience were thinking when he said Congress shouldn’t step in, quickly, to allay people’s fears around artificial intelligence. “They’re not a tech-savvy band,” he told the audience in London.
This theme – of policymakers grappling with complex digital topics with little or no experience in these areas – came up repeatedly, as is the hallmark of digital policy-making on both sides of the Atlantic. . Few, if any, officials have a technical background.
Julie Brill, a former U.S. federal trade commissioner and current chief privacy officer at Microsoft, announced countries’ efforts to work more closely on these hot digital topics. But warned that governments should approach these areas, slowly, to avoid stifling innovation in the name of cross-border regulation.
“We need to think carefully about how we come together.”