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3 takeaways from POLITICO’s first global tech summit – POLITICO

3 takeaways from POLITICO’s first global tech summit – POLITICO

LONDON — Tensions on what to do about China. Differences on tackling artificial intelligence. Graphic warnings about how to keep children safe online.

POLITICO’s inaugural Global Tech Day shifted between the geopolitics of technology to granular policymaking on both sides of the Atlantic as officials and politicians gathered in London on Thursday to talk through often thorny digital topics that have become central to the political debate in Washington, Brussels and other Western capitals.

Not everyone agreed on what should be done. 

U.S. Republican Senator Ted Cruz urged Congress to steer clear of AI rulemaking, mostly because — in his words — the Beltway “doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing” on the emerging technology. In contrast, Lucilla Sioli, a senior official from the European Union, the 27-country bloc that is nearing the completion of a comprehensive rulebook for AI, cheered how Brussels had taken up the mantle to regulate a technology that has caught the public’s attention.

Here are three takeaways from POLITICO’s Global Tech Day:

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1) What to do about China?

Mark Warner, the Democratic senator from Virginia, made it clear: China is leading the way on artificial intelligence — and the U.S. needed to catch up. Speaking at the event, the leading China hawk said Washington had to up its game if it wanted to defend its national security interests against its geopolitical rival. 

“China is very much ahead of the game in terms of self-regulating AI within their own nation-state,” he said.

Yet David Koh, chief executive of Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency, urged caution in souring relations with Beijing, mostly because the small Asian country’s economy relied heavily on its larger neighbor.

The concept of de-risking — a U.S. initiative aimed at isolating China from the global economy and emerging technologies, in particular — was a complex one for smaller economies within the Asia Pacific region because many had long-standing ties to the world’s second-largest economy.

“Our concern is that de-risking, taken too far, will affect the current status quo,” he added.

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2) Keeping people safe online

Regulators in the EU, Australia and the United Kingdom — but not, currently, in the U.S. — are moving forward with sweeping new plans to hold social media companies more accountable for what is posted online.

Julie Inman Grant, the American-born head of Australia’s eSafety Commission, the local regulator that oversees that country’s regime, recounted how pre-teens across Australia were now being extorted after criminal gangs had forced them to post explicit photos of themselves online. 

In the first three months of 2023, the former Twitter executive added, her agency has received triple the number of sexual exploitation reports compared to the same period last year.

“It’s pretty gnarly out there and what young people are experiencing is not what childhood should look like,” said Inman Grant on the increase of reports of kids being sexually extorted online.

Jeremy Godfrey, the executive chairperson of Ireland’s Coimisiún na Meán, the country’s watchdog that will enforce parts of the EU’s Digital Services Act, or sweeping online content rulebook, said it was less about censoring specific pieces of content. Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are currently investigating whether the federal government, platforms and outside researchers worked together to silence rightwing voices.

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Yet for Godfrey, the focus should be on revamping how social media platforms handled the tidal wave of material that often nudged potentially vulnerable users to graphic and harmful content.

“This needs largely to be treated as a systemic issue,” he said. “It’s about regulating how platforms deal with the risks of harmful and illegal content online.”

3) We don’t know what we don’t know

Throughout the day, officials and politicians either urged for a more hands-off approach to tech rulemaking or called for greater regulation on topics from telecommunications to digital currencies. The U.S. has favored less regulation, while the EU has become the Western world’s de facto digital police officer.

But Cruz summed up what many were thinking in the audience when he said Congress should not step in, quickly, to calm people’s fears around artificial intelligence. “This is not a tech-savvy group,” he told the audience in London.

That theme — of policymakers grappling with complex digital topics with little, to no, background in these areas — came up repeatedly, as is the hallmark of digital policymaking on both sides of the Atlantic. Few, if any, officials have technical backgrounds.

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Julie Brill, a former U.S. Federal Trade Commissioner and current chief privacy officer at Microsoft, heralded countries’ efforts to work more closely on these hot-button 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.”

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Mark Scott

Published: 2023-06-16 03:18:55

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