FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION – 5 ways to unlock the power of tech for the post-pandemic recovery (William Eggers, Ruth Hickin, WEF)

  • We still need an innovate governance framework for the technology behind the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
  • Governments, businesses and civil society must ask how these technologies can best be harnessed to accelerate growth in these times.
  • We can look to policies from Canada to Finland to guide us, and help us get the full potential from these technologies.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has involved a coming together of the digital, biological and physical worlds punctuated by new technologies the likes of artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing and the Internet of Things.

It is unsurprising, given its immense scope if nothing else, that the technology driving this revolution (“4IR tech”) is presenting opportunities and challenges that can only be properly tackled with a forward-looking and innovative approach to governance.

As we have already seen, efforts to recover from COVID-19 have triggered a tsunami of innovations in work, collaboration, distribution and service delivery. They have, indeed, fundamentally shifted customer behavior on multiple levels.

And so, the question is: how can we harness and shape the disruption 4IR tech engenders in such a way that simultaneously promotes global economic recovery, expands human opportunity, and increases cooperation and security?

Regulatory agility remains the key

Long before the pandemic, gaps existed in the way technology was regulated, and with them came the usual accompanying risks of fostering an environment of potential misuse or unintended consequences.

Issues of privacy, liability and cross-border regulatory discrepancies were among them, as was the potential for misuse by bad actors.

New models of governance were, and still are, required to fill these gaps and to enhance the benefits of 4IR technologies. It comes as no surprises that regulatory agility has become increasingly important in the COVID-19 era, as governments ease restrictions to accelerate the development of new treatments and technologies.

Our research hones in on several emerging and leading frameworks that have the potential to provide effective technology governance of emerging technologies.

Some 70 governance frameworks are highlighted in the joint World Economic Forum and Deloitte 2021 Global Technology Governance report, which summarises common governance challenges and frameworks across five 4IR technologies. Artificial Intelligence (AI), mobility (including autonomous vehicles), blockchain, drones and the Internet of Things (IoT). Here are five of the most innovative examples taken from the whole:

  • AI in Canada — In 2019, Canada issued a directive on automated decision making, aimed at guiding the Government of Canada in using “any technology that either assists or replaces the judgement of human decision-makers.” It includes requirements such as algorithmic impact assessments, providing notice before and explanations after decisions, recourse options and reporting on the effectiveness and efficiency of systems. The directive is intended to be updated in tandem with the evolution of technologies and their different uses.
  • IoT in Finland — Finland has launched a cybersecurity labelling system to inform consumers about which IoT products meet digital safety standards. The move is aimed at promoting secure-by-default IoT product lines and spreading awareness of the dangers associated with increased connectivity. The labelling initiative will see a stamp placed on every smart device that adheres to Finland’s cybersecurity safety guidelines. Vendors can apply for security badge certification through a website which consumers can also consult to make informed purchases.

How can we harness and shape the disruption 4IR tech engenders in such a way that simultaneously promotes global economic recovery?

—William Eggers and Ruth Hickin

Going forward, governments, businesses and civil society alike must ask how these technologies can best be harnessed and governed so as to accelerate growth, encourage innovation and build resiliency.

The response will play an important role in how we reset society, the economy and the business environment.