FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION – Global Technology Governance Report 2021 (WEF)


An essential consideration for government, business and civil society is how technologies are harnessed and regulated to accelerate growth, encourage innovation and build resiliency in the wake of COVID-19. How governments and other stakeholders approach the governance of technologies will play an important role in how we reset society, the economy and the business environment.

This report examines some of the most important applications of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies if we are to thrive in a post-pandemic world and the governance challenges that should be addressed for these technologies to reach their potential.

The technology areas it focuses on are artificial intelligence, blockchain, internet of things, mobility and drones and unmanned air systems.

Using tech to recover from the pandemic

Efforts to recover from the pandemic have triggered a tsunami of innovations in work, collaboration, distribution and service delivery – and shifted many customer behaviours. AI and data analytics have helped Taiwan, China predict the risk of infection. China has used drones and robots to minimize human contact. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is using blockchain to provide seamless digital services to its citizens, and the United States is using autonomous vehicles to deliver test samples to processing labs.

But mind the gaps

There are significant governance gaps, including issues of privacy, liability, cross-border regulatory discrepancies and the potential for misuse by bad actors – such as the recent surge in ransomware attacks enabled by cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin or the risk of abuse posed by technologies like “deepfake” videos.

Bridging the gaps with new governance models

Regulatory agility has become increasingly important in the COVID-19 era, as governments ease restrictions to accelerate the development of new treatments and technology – such as autonomous delivery drones – to address the pandemic.

Singapore’s AI governance framework can assist the private sector by providing guidelines on internal governance, human involvement, operations management and stakeholder communication. In Japan, the Financial Services Agency has accorded the Japan Virtual and Crypto Asset Exchange Association (JVCEA) the status of a self-regulatory body for the country’s crypto exchanges – recognizing the private sector’s role in providing effective governance. Countries such as New Zealand have introduced guidelines that incorporate privacy, human rights and ethical concerns into the design of government algorithms.

Tech governance effectiveness themes

technology, governance, regulation, risk mitigation, pandemic, COVID-19
Gaps in the regulation of technology present significant risks in the short, near and long term. Image: World Economic Forum

Preparation mitigates risks

As new technologies continue to evolve, regulators should anticipate their needs and risks. While it’s not always possible to get ahead of evolving technology, it is possible to prepare.

Common themes of governance that is working include:

  • Ethical governance – Many countries have developed ethical governance frameworks that provide guidelines on how to develop emerging technologies responsibly.
  • Public-private coordination – Government needs to protect the public from harm and provide stewardship for new technologies, while companies need to take responsibility for their social obligations.
  • Agile, responsive regulation – Typically, regulations are not “future-proof”. They tend to be prescriptive in nature, take months or years to enact, require the review of extensive public comments and stay rigid once created. In contrast, technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are often developed in agile sprints, beta tested on early adopters and swiftly updated.
  • Experimental: sandboxes and accelerators – Sometimes regulators simply observe the consequences of a new technology in the safety of an isolated environment.
  • Data sharing/interoperability – Since many technologies rely on data to refine their operations – especially those employing AI and data analytics – more data should mean better results.
  • Regulatory collaboration – Because emerging technologies permeate national boundaries – while also giving rise to second- and third-order effects rippling out from innovation – regulating them calls for collaboration among agencies within a country as well as cross-border collaboration.
technology, governance, regulation, risk mitigation, pandemic, COVID-19
It is not always possible to get ahead of evolving technology, but it is possible to prepare. Image: World Economic Forum


There are a number of gaps in the regulation of technology that present significant risks in the short, near and long term, but there is significant work to be built upon to mitigate those risks. Good governance, whether through policy, norms, protocols or standards, is being piloted around the world to accelerate the benefits of technology. These examples can serve as a starting point to address the biggest risks in technology governance today to use technology to recover from the fall-out of COVID-19.