British computer scientist and inventor of the web has just launched a global plan to save it.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee on Monday launched the World Wide Web Foundation’s ‘Contract For The Web’, a plan that lays out a set of core principles and a road map for business, government and individuals to follow. He says such a concept is urgently needed to save the web and help prevent humanity sliding into a new age of ‘digital dystopia’. So, why is it that Berners-Lee thinks the world wide web needs saving?
Regardless of how much time you may personally spend browsing the web, it is now fundamental to life as we know it. Over the past 30 years, the world wide web has truly changed the world, helping to democratise access to information and education, accelerating global scientific progress, enabling the development of numerous other digital technologies, becoming the biggest driver of the global economy and even helping humanity to develop a broader understanding of itself.
The vision of the academic, scientific and technology communities that built the web was always to create an open and neutral system, available to all. However, according to Berners-Lee, the web now comes under increasing attack from government and commercial interests, threatening its neutrality, freedom and universal access.
In some respects, this has always been the case. In the 1990s, some governments were more enthusiastic than others in allowing public access to the internet to begin with. Many government officials and politicians had concerns about the perceived dangers of the web, such as use by organised crime, terrorists, political activists or publishers of pornography.
Business has also long influenced usage of the web and has been a deciding factor in the rate of internet adoption. The capitalist nature of the internet’s global roll-out is a primary reason why more than half of the world’s population is still offline. For those fortunate enough to be online, their web experience is heavily influenced by huge investment promoting commercial interests.
So, given that the web has already been shaped by long standing commercial and government interests, what’s the impetus that has led to the heightened concern and the Web Foundation’s global action plan?
Berners-Lee maintains that never before has the web’s power for good been under more threat and that it has now reached a tipping point from which it could very well descend into dystopia. Firstly, with 46 per cent of the world’s population still unable to access the internet, he believes the digital divide threatens to be one of the greatest sources of equality in our time.
Speaking at the internet Governance Forum in Berlin this week, Berners-Lee put his case forward for the web as a force that truly serves humanity, but was also at pains to impress upon delegates the complex challenges that we face require action across the gamut of business, government, society and individual internet users.
The concept for the plan was first introduced by Berners-Lee five years ago as a ‘Magna Carta for the web’. Since then, there can be no doubt that new dangers continue to present themselves.
From foreign powers accused of trying to manipulate the 2016 US election via social media, to numerous data breaches exposing the private data of millions of internet users, through to the epidemic of fake news and fake content, and the rise in hate speech online, the web has never had the power to negatively affect so many. Importantly, dangers like these know no national boundaries and arguably make the internet less safe, even in those countries that have long championed online freedoms and protection.
The global, borderless nature of the web means that laws such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation can only ever provide part of the solution to ensure it works for all. For this reason, Berners-Lee believes that public participation is critical, if we are to have the web that we want.
In addition to providing a framework of guiding principles for business and government, the Web Foundation’s plan urges internet users to be active participants in shaping the web, including the content and systems made available through it. Individuals can help build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity, and be active citizens of the web, creating awareness among their peers regarding threats, supporting positive initiatives and holding regulators to account.
In common with other pressing global issues such as climate change and increasing social inequalities, it may be up to humanity to save itself.
With the US and China dominating artificial intelligence development, what chances do smaller nations have?
Over the past two years, a national artificial intelligence (AI) strategy has come to be seen as a pre-requisite for digital competitiveness and an essential pillar of national governance for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. So, Singapore unveiling a new, updated national AI strategy last week has received global attention.
In common with the UAE, Singapore was one of the first countries to announce a national AI strategy, back in 2017. The new one, unveiled by the Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on the last day of Singapore’s FinTech Festival last week, is holistic and zeros in on some specific national goals. Importantly, it also leverages investments already made by the government in education, technology development, infrastructure and innovation.
Developed by the Smart Nation Digital Government Office (SNDGO), the AI strategy not only identifies key areas that can be enabled by AI and the necessary resources to support nation-wide AI adoption, but also aims to set out Singapore’s stall as a leading global hub for the development, testing and export of AI applications. Recently ranked by the think tank Oliver Wyman Forum as the city most ready for AI, Singapore’s play for a greater role in the development of commercial and government AI systems has many things going for it.
Against the backdrop of the China-US trade war, Singapore is geographically and politically well placed to encourage both Chinese and American investment in AI ventures, at a time when cross-border foreign direct investment and venture capital between the two AI powerhouses is at its lowest level since 2014. Meanwhile, the combination of the country’s willingness to implement AI and the small size of the nation itself, make it an ideal testbed for AI developers to try-out their solutions before exporting them to larger countries, where implementation may face more obstacles and have higher costs.
Singapore’s strategy identifies key enablers for AI innovation and adoption, including the development of talent, data infrastructure and creating a progressive and trusted environment for AI. However, crucially, it also picks five core development projects designed to bring early benefits, plus create opportunities for local innovation and investment. By choosing AI-enabled projects that both address national challenges and deliver a visible impact on society and the economy, Singapore is also preparing the proof of concept for its goal of becoming a global hub for the development of AI technologies.
It’s no coincidence that the UAE, Finland and Singapore all first committed to national AI strategies in 2017, alongside large nations such as Canada and China, but well ahead of most of the world. All three countries have populations under 10 million, have relatively large economies and have been able to stay ahead of the technology curve.
The forward-looking policy and smaller size of these countries has helped to make embracing new technologies faster and more achievable than for many larger countries with bigger budgets, often allowing them to leapfrog global competitors.
Finland, Singapore and the UAE were all early pioneers of e-government, helping to develop new digital government processes. They were all also early adopters of new mobile standards and consumer services including mobile broadband.
So, it makes perfect sense that smaller digital-savvy countries should be able to take leadership positions in the fast-developing world of AI.
It is now well-known that the UAE was the first country in the world to bring AI decision-making into government at a cabinet level, naming His Excellency Omar Sultan Al Olama Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence in October 2017. In April of this year, the cabinet approved the UAE’s AI Strategy 2031.
The UAE has also made strategic investments in a number of new ventures to ensure that the UAE becomes not only an early adopter, but also a leading producer of AI applications. Last week Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), one of the world’s largest oil production companies, announced a joint venture with UAE AI group G42 to create artificially intelligent applications for the energy sector.
Other high profile AI investments in the UAE include a world-class AI research institute in its capital, the world’s first dedicated artificial intelligence university and Chinese AI provider SenseTime’s plans to open a Europe, Middle East and Africa research and development centre in Abu Dhabi.
Singapore’s new national AI strategy makes a convincing case for prioritising the development of a homegrown AI industry, in line with the country’s core strengths and challenges. The UAE has its own set of strengths and challenges, and these too, provide a golden opportunity for it to become one of the world’s leading AI producers.
It should come as no surprise that Google, one of the largest AI developers in the world, this week announced it a partnership agreement with Ascension, the second largest healthcare system in the US. The deal will gain Google access to the health records of millions of Americans across 21 states.
What though has proved to be a surprise to the media, American public and other stakeholders is that the partnership (code-named “Project Nightingale”) began last year in secret and without communication with doctors or patients, reported the Wall Street Journal.
One of the topics discussed at this week’s annual World Economic Forum Global Future Council in Dubai was how governments are coping with setting the rules for disruptive technologies. Given the now daily news coverage on the divergent opinions regarding the threats and opportunities brought by artificial intelligence (AI), it should come as no surprise that policymakers are coming under extreme pressure to do better.
It’s not simply the scale of the challenge, with government, industry and other institutions having to consider a wider range of technologies and technology implications than ever before. It is the sheer pace of change driving an unrelenting cycle of innovation and disruption, and, as AI becomes more commonplace, the pace of innovation and disruption will only further accelerate.
Do brands need AI avatars of themselves? Last week at London’s One Young World Summit, Biz Stone co-founder of Twitter and Lars Buttler, CEO of San Francisco-based The AI Foundation, announced a new concept they called ‘personal media’ and claimed that artificial intelligence is the future of social change. The Foundation is working on new technology that Buttler says will allow anyone to create an AI avatar of themselves, which would look like them, talk like them and act like them. Empowered by AI avatars, people will then be able to, potentially, have billions of conversations at the same time.
So, what does this new kind of AI communications mean for brands?