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New approach needed to make digital data flow beneficial for all

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Digital connectivity is indispensable to overcome the pandemic, and for a sustainable and inclusive recovery. Photo: United Nations/Chetan Soni

The world needs a new approach to allow as many people as possible to access digital data across borders, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said on Wednesday. 

This should help maximize development gains and ensure that they are equitably distributed, said the agency, launching its Digital Economy Report 2021

A new approach should also enable worldwide data sharing, increase the development of global digital “public goods”, increase trust and reduce uncertainty in the digital economy, UNCTAD added. 

The report stressed that the new global system must help avoid further fragmentation of the internet, address policy challenges emerging from the dominant positions of digital platforms, and narrow existing inequalities. 

“It is more important than ever to embark on a new path for digital and data governance,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his preface to the report. 

“The current fragmented data landscape… may create more space for substantial harms related to privacy breaches, cyberattacks and other risks” he added.   

New governance 

Digital data play an increasingly important role as an economic and strategic resource, a trend reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the report says. 

For example, sharing health data globally is of “critical importance” as it can help countries fight disease outbreaks, and for research purposes, in the development of effective vaccines: “The issue of digital governance can no longer be postponed,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan said.  

“The global data economy calls for moving away from the silo approach towards a more holistic, coordinated global approach,” UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant added.  

New data body  

UNCTAD is proposing the formation of a new United Nations coordinating body, focused on assessing and developing global digital and data governance. 

The body should seek to remedy the underrepresentation of developing countries and provide sufficient policy space to ensure countries with different levels of digital readiness and capacities, can truly benefit. 

Differing approaches 

The report notes that now, there are widely diverging approaches to data governance, with three leading players – the United States, China and the European Union (EU). 

In essence, the US approach focuses on control of data by the private sector, the Chinese model emphasizes control of data by government, while the EU favours control of data by individuals, based on fundamental rights and values. 

“The absence of a global data governance framework hampers countries’ ability to reap benefits from the digital economy,” UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, Shamika N. Sirimanne, said. “It also hinders their ability to protect the privacy of people from both private sector and government use of data and to address concerns related to law enforcement and national security”. 

The new approach would allow countries to better harness data for public benefit, agree on rights and principles, develop standards and increase international cooperation. 

The report also highlighted that the governance of cross-border data flows is at an impasse due to diverging views and positions on their regulation. 

The proposed new global data governance approach could contribute towards developing a middle-ground solution, it said pointing out that the current regional and international regulatory frameworks tend to be either too narrow in scope or too limited geographically.  

Data divide 

The report warned that a data-related divide is emerging, resulting in many developing countries becoming mere providers of raw data to global digital platforms while having to pay for the digital intelligence generated from their data. 

Only 20 per cent of people in the least developed countries (LDCs) use the internet, and when they do, it’s typically at relatively low download speeds and with a relatively high price tag attached, the report said. 

It also noted that the average mobile broadband speed, is about three times higher in developed countries than in LDCs. And while up to eight out of 10 internet users shop online in several developed countries, only less than one out of 10 do so in many LDCs, it added. 

US, China dominate 

The US and China are the frontrunners in harnessing data, according to the report. They account for 50 per cent of the world’s hyper-scale data centres, the world’s highest rates of 5G adoption, 70 per cent of the world’s top artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, and 94 per cent of all funding for AI startups. 

The two countries also make up about 90 per cent of the market capitalization of the world’s largest digital platforms, and during the pandemic, their profits and market capitalization values have surged tremendously.   

Corporate growth 

The report warns that it has become increasingly difficult to consider regulations of cross-border data flows without also considering the governance of the digital corporations. 

These platforms continue to expand their own data ecosystems and increasingly control all stages of the global data value chain. 

The largest digital platforms, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Tencent and Alibaba, are increasingly investing in all parts of the global data value chain, the report said. 

Amazon for example, has invested some $10 billion in satellite broadband, while Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were the top acquirers of AI startups between 2016 and 2020. 

Four major platforms (Alibaba, Amazon, Google and Microsoft) accounted for 67 per cent of global cloud infrastructure services revenues in the last quarter of 2020.  

The report’s findings will feed into discussions during UNCTAD’s 15th quadrennial conference to be held online from 3 to 7 October. 

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Satya Nadella Says AI Golden Age Is Here and ‘It’s Good for Humanity’

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The cutting-edge chatbot ChatGPT is capturing the world’s imagination. The new artificial intelligence site amassed 1 million users in just five days after its recent launch. It is but one of a dozen AI-driven so-called “killer apps” that will transform human productivity and the future of work.

ChatGPT answers complex questions via short prompts on a vast array of topics, and even writes lyrics and poetry. Underpinned by generative models such as GPT-3 and GPT-3.5, it is the most conspicuous example of technology dubbed generative AI.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft Chairman and CEO, in a session at the Annual Meeting, told Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, that a golden age of AI is under way and will redefine work as we know it.

“The future of work is not just about technology and tools,” he said. It’s about new management practices and sensibilities to the workplace.”

“Technology will provide more and more ways to bring people together,” he said. Public-private cooperation itself is moving virtual. The Forum’s Global Collaboration Village, for example, harnesses the power of the metaverse as a platform for collaborative, inclusive and effective international action.

“Microsoft is opening up access to new AI tools like ChatGPT,” said Nadella. “I see these technologies acting as a co-pilot, helping people do more with less.”

He provided two anecdotes of recent use cases of GPT technology. The first is an expert coder from Silicon Valley who improved their productivity by 80% by using the model to help write better code faster. The second was an Indian farmer who was able to use a GPT interface to access an opaque government programme via the internet, despite only speaking a local dialect.

“AI is just at the beginning of the S-curve,” said Nadella. The near-term and long-term opportunities are enormous, he added.

Looking ahead, he said Microsoft intends to lead on quantum computing. Microsoft has all the building blocks for a next-generation quantum computer. He said: “Microsoft will achieve quantum supremacy and aims to build a general-purpose quantum computer.”

On safety and security, Nadella said the operating principle for protecting critical infrastructure should be to assume the worst – “have zero trust”. “Safety and security needs to be included right at the design stage,” he said.

Sustainability is at the core of the business. “By 2050 Microsoft aims to not just be carbon-neutral but carbon-negative.” Last year the tech giant released “Cloud for Sustainability”, bringing together a growing set of environmental, social and governance (ESG) capabilities across the Microsoft cloud portfolio plus solutions from the firm’s global ecosystem.

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Cybercrime Initiative to Boost Coordination between Private Sector and Law Enforcement

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In an effort to tackle rising cybercrime levels, the World Economic Forum launched today at the Annual Meeting 2023 an initiative to map cybercriminal activities and identify joint public and private sector responses.

Building on the expertise of the Forum’s Partnership against Cybercrime, the Cybercrime Atlas initiative will provide a platform for leading cybercrime investigators, national and international law enforcement agencies, and global businesses to share knowledge, generate policy recommendations and identify opportunities for coordinated action to fight cyberthreats.

“The Cybercrime Atlas is a collaborative research initiative that gathers and collates information about the cybercriminal ecosystem and major threat actors operating today,” said Jeremy Jurgens, Managing Director, World Economic Forum. “The insights generated will help promote opportunities for greater cooperation between the private sector and law enforcement to address cybercrime.”

Cybercrime, such as the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline in May 2021 that caused US President Joe Biden to declare a state of emergency, is a threat to national security, public organizations and businesses of all sizes. Despite the amount of digital data collected on cybercriminal activities worldwide, the effort to fight it is often uncoordinated, disjointed and dispersed. The Cybercrime Atlas aims to map the cybercrime landscape, covering criminal operations, structures and networks.

First announced at San Francisco’s RSA Conference in June 2022, the Cybercrime Atlas has benefited from a year of pro bono analysis of 13 criminal groups by cybercrime investigators. Their approach and findings have been welcomed by law enforcement agencies.

“This initiative underlines the need for an enhanced multi-sector approach to combat the increasing cybercrime threat,” said Jürgen Stock, Secretary-General, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL). “A global solution must include private sector insights to enable law enforcement to prevent, detect, investigate and disrupt cybercrime.”

The secretariat for the Cybercrime Atlas initiative will be hosted by the World Economic Forum for the next 2-3 years, with the support of Fortinet, Microsoft, PayPal and Santander, until it is sufficiently established to become an independent platform.

“The Cybercrime Atlas is an important initiative that will aid industry, law enforcement, and government agencies by providing a first-of-its-kind visibility to disrupt cybercriminals across their ecosystem and infrastructure,” said Ken Xie, Chief Executive Officer, Fortinet. “A global and unified effort will make it easier to get beyond the obstacles that shield cybercriminals.”

The Forum’s Partnership against Cybercrime initiative brings together a dedicated community to drive momentum for a public-private partnership to combat cybercrime.

“Cybercriminals work in the shadows and exploit vulnerabilities to inflict devastating attacks. The Cybercrime Atlas provides an important forum that brings the public and private sectors together to share actionable information and leverage cross-sector data, capabilities and expertise, crucial to disrupting cybercrime quickly, and at scale,” said Brad Smith, Vice-Chair and President, Microsoft.

“To mitigate and disrupt global cybercrime in today’s interconnected world, we need robust platforms to share intelligence and facilitate more meaningful institutional collaboration,” added Assaf Keren, Chief Information Security Officer and Vice-President, Enterprise Cyber Security, PayPal. “The Cybercrime Atlas represents a key next step in this work and an opportunity to unite global businesses, law enforcement and experts around concrete opportunities to protect the world’s citizens and their safety.”

“Given the global nature of cyberthreats, increasingly public-private collaboration is the best way to combat cybercrime,” said Dirk Marzluf, Group Chief Operating and Technology Officer, Banco Santander. “Organizations must look beyond their perimeter and combine efforts and resources with businesses, law enforcement and government.”

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Landmark Reports on Future of Metaverse Focus on Interoperability and Value Creation

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The Defining and Building the Metaverse initiative, launched by the World Economic Forum in May 2022, has released initial findings in two briefing papers – the first research of its kind on the metaverse. The initiative combines the expertise of more than 150 individuals in diverse sectors from the public and private sectors to understand and guide the future of the metaverse to become safe, interoperable and inclusive.

The governance briefing paper, Interoperability in the Metaverse, emphasizes the importance of removing friction for users. Interoperability is one strategy for allowing users to move across and between the physical and digital world with their relevant data, digital assets and identities. It can facilitate the free circulation of data and the secure exchange of information across systems.

The value creation report, Demystifying the Consumer Metaverse, focuses on consumer applications, foundational technologies and potential pathways to economic value and growth. The metaverse will require a diverse range of organizations to redefine their brands and change the way they monetize products and services to generate consumer value. The immersive, interactive nature of the metaverse will require businesses to move further away from the one-way delivery of products and services to becoming metaverse participants and providers. As consumer organizations experiment and incubate new business models for the metaverse, their work can inspire others and demonstrate the possibility of change in other industries.

The metaverse – an immersive, interoperable and synchronous digital world – represents the next era in the internet’s development. While its precise definition is still being debated, the metaverse is already forecast to become an $800 billion market in 2024. Unlocking the potential of this new field requires coordination of technology developers, corporations, governments and civil society. The World Economic Forum has convened experts from a broad range of fields to focus on two workstreams related to the future of the metaverse: governance and value creation.

Future workstreams will focus on two additional governance-related themes: privacy, safety and security; and identity. The value-creation track will issue additional outputs focused on other industries and the social implications of the metaverse.

“The metaverse is the next version of the internet and it is critical that it’s built by all, and for all. These two outputs reflect premier work on the metaverse involving such an extensive set of stakeholders and leaders, demonstrating the unique value of public-private partnership in metaverse development,” said Cathy Li, Head of Media, Entertainment and Sport, World Economic Forum.

Huda Al Hashimi, Deputy Minister of Cabinet Affairs for Strategic Affairs, Office of the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, said: “Making the most of the metaverse will require governments to be proactive in understanding both the opportunities and the challenges that a persistent and interconnected virtual environment offers. This will also require developing new capabilities and importantly a different approach to regulation, informed by agile principles. This briefing paper clearly lays out a framework that can help governments gain a better understanding of the opportunity presented by the metaverse and makes a strong case for investing now in creating the conditions that will allow to generate public value from it, whilst protecting the public.”

Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap, Inc., said: “At Magic Leap, what excites us about augmented reality is the two-way bridge it creates between our digital and physical worlds, taking information from 2D screens into 3D spaces, where it is far more intuitive and engaging. We’re at a pivotal moment for this technology, and it is critical that we have a shared set of principles that support further innovation, ensure accessibility and promote interoperability between platforms.”

Yat Siu, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Animoca Brands, said: “The metaverse initiative is focusing on highly relevant topics to the metaverse, like interoperability – which is fundamental to digital assets. How do we ensure true ownership of assets? How do we improve the frameworks from those used in Web2.0? These are the complicated issues this initiative is taking on and finding answers to.”

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