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The Digital Revolution – Unquantifiable benefits and undeniable risks : Oxford and beyond

"On 12th November, at a meeting of leading experts drawn from the membership of the FIDE Fundacion, Christopher Muttukumaru* underlined the significance of FIDE Fundacion’s aim of developing cross border thinking to address the challenges of a digital revolution which promises both unquantifiable benefits and undeniable risks."

On 12th November, a follow-up meeting to FIDE Fundacion’s recent Congress at Jesus College, Oxford, was held in Madrid. The Oxford Congress had itself built on the earlier FIDE Fundacion Congress at the University of Alicante March 14-15th of 2019..

At the Oxford Congress, a cross-disciplinary group of experts had met to discuss the digital revolution and its regulation in a cross border context. The group comprised senior lawyers; leading economists and businesses;  and top experts in the digital technological field.

At the follow-up meeting in Madrid, attendees committed to supporting FIDE Fundacion’s aim of publishing their findings, conclusions, and recommendations in the spring of 2020.

FIDE Fundacion’s purpose is to add value to a debate which – at last- is coming to life. FIDE will use its interdisciplinary capability not merely to map the basic facts and concepts underlying the way in which  technology can properly be used to drive profitable business development and better governmental services but also to determine where the fault lines, especially those which adversely  affect the consumer, arise; and  how, in regulatory terms, to respond.

It is self-evident that the development of Artificial Intelligence and the exploitation of big data are capable of yielding significant benefits.

But there is also evidence that the markets are imperfect and that there are serious risks to a level playing field arising from anti-competitive behaviour flowing from abuse of a dominant position in the collection and exploitation of data (and even of predatory conduct) in a number of sectors.

Yet there is no one size fits all solution. Questions that have been raised by Oxford participants include:
 A: if regulation is the right answer, the need to consider how best to avoid stifling innovation and to drive economic growth while proportionately protecting businesses and consumers alike;

B: in that regard, the need to apply the principles of Smart Regulation. That would include the assessment of the question whether, consistently with the principle of subsidiarity, it is more effective  to regulate nationally or at a supranational level;

C: the need to create a spectrum  of options, ranging from guidance and codes of conduct to a framework for self-regulation and, finally, to the most intrusive option of prescriptive rules;

D: since data has a habit of crossing frontiers globally ( and not solely within the EU), the need to consider whether it would be desirable to develop common principles and propose institutional innovation and/or reform, in either case  at a global level;

E: the need for fuller transparency in the use of data in every sector that was considered at the Oxford Congress, each of which functions in a cross border environment;

F: Ultimately, there is evidence that the pace of change is not adequately understood and that there are understandable concerns about how employment prospects will be affected. Indeed there exists public suspicion of the aims of the high tech industry. It is not enough to assert that the digital revolution is “good for you”. Therefore  there is a need  for governments and societies to work out how citizens and businesses could be better prepared by improved school curricula and by enhanced lifelong learning opportunities for those  who are already employed workers;  and

G: the need to address ethical questions irrespective of legal intervention. 
This is a challenging agenda. There are many questions. There are also risks and opportunities. There are fewer answers than there should be. FIDE Fundacion will help to shape future thinking”

The Digital Revolution - Unquantifiable benefits and undeniable risks : Oxford and beyond

* Christopher Muttukumaru CB DL is chair of FIDE Fundacion’s International Committee.

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