Technology policy trends to look out for in 2020

Access Partnership, a UK-based public policy consultancy, has recently published its top ten tech policy trends to look out for in 2020. Here we provide an overview of three of them, which we think are important for procurement technology vendors.

Regulation of artificial intelligence

The European Union (EU) has published its vision of “human-centric” artificial intelligence (AI) based on defined ethical notions of security, privacy, and dignity. It is due to make an announcement on AI regulation by the end of February to set the future direction of travel.

Europe lags behind the US and China in terms of investment in AI, and this will no doubt be top of mind when considering the way it chooses to regulate. The EU must avoid stifling innovation by being overly prescriptive, but at the same time be proactive and robust

The impact on companies in Europe

AI ethics is one area where Europe wants to lead, so politicians are likely to stress the importance of ethical AI as a business differentiator. The Commission President has said that key technologies such as AI must be managed and kept in Europe. Companies wishing to operate in Europe using AI technologies therefore potentially face a hard stance by policymakers, which risks excluding “non-European” technologies from public procurement markets and “non-European” companies from influencing AI legislation.

How should companies respond?

Engage: it is easier to shape regulation while it is not yet drafted. By forging relationships with legislators, companies improve the likelihood of having their business model reflected in upcoming legislation. Smaller businesses wishing to grow their products should target EU research funds, such as Horizon Europe. Non-European companies that rely on AI for their products and services also need to engage too. Policymakers want to hear about opportunities regarding key initiatives: therefore to grow key relationships companies should be prepared to discuss concrete solutions and recommendations.

The Digital Services Act

The Digital Services Act (DSA) is set to become as important as GDPR has been in Europe this year. Digital companies will be held accountable for the creation of harmful content by their users on social media platforms, search engines, video gaming platforms, and online marketplaces.

Germany, France and the UK have legislation in development, and pan-EU regulation should result in some harmonisation across the EU. The DSA will upgrade liability and safety rules for digital platforms, services and products, and will incentivise companies to remove illegal and harmful content, which could be anything from hate speech to fraudulent products by third-party sellers.

A long road

Legislation is unlikely to be complete in 2020, but ultimately it will affect consumer rights, censorship, the free market, and the responsibility of online platforms. If not done right, this could have a ripple effect on industry and undermine the competitive landscape; even businesses far removed from end users could suffer.

Wide-reaching implications

Proposals drawn up in the DSA will affect both the entire technology sector and just about any service relying on user-generated content. Businesses need to engage with several cabinets within the Commission to ensure it understands the nature of the services it will regulate. Consumer protection, disinformation, workers’ rights in the gig economy, and competition will form part of the agenda.

The sector should prepare for sweeping regulatory oversight. In the first quarter of 2020 businesses should watch for a consultation and communications on the scope of the DSA, followed by the first legislative proposals in the second half of the year.

Green technology and ICTs

“Sustainable growth” has become an all-pervasive phrase in policy forums. There is an imperative for policy-makers, regulators and industry to cooperate in creating green and energy-efficient industries.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are part of both the problem and the solution: they contribute around 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet help reduce emissions through monitoring climate change, and facilitating transition towards a circular economy for example. Policy-makers are motivated to reduce the negative impact of ICTs and maximise their potential for facilitating sustainability. ICTs are key to environmental strategies, and policy makers are working with industry to develop new standards and frameworks to address global challenges.

How three leading organisations are harnessing ICTs in tackling climate change

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has a new focus group (FG-AI4EE) to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of frontier technologies. In 2020, the ITU plans to work with the ICT industry to minimise its carbon footprint and develop international standards.

The OECD Environment Directorate has a project to investigate the effects of climate policy on technological development. The OECD views ICT as an industry that is critical to ensuring the co-existence of economic growth and environmental improvement.

In 2019 the European Commission announced the Green Deal – legislation to bring about climate neutrality. Discussions on a longer-term climate strategy and net-zero emissions are taking place. Meanwhile the EU’s Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology (DG CONNECT) is setting a climate-focused agenda.

How should the ICT industry respond?

The ICT industry needs to get involved in the development of regulation and standards, and to work with others to resolve some of the most urgent global environmental problems to ensure favourable outcomes for all.

The Access Partnership report also covers technology protectionism in Europe, supply chain security, US privacy law, data sharing and IoT regulations, and 5G security.

It can be accessed here.

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