What you’re ignorant about you fear, and what you fear, you want to shut down.
Those were the words of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair when bemoaning how ‘hopelessly unprepared’ international politicians were for what he called the next ‘industrial revolution’.
Decades ago, the Internet opened Pandora’s Box and our legacy institutions have repeatedly proven themselves incapable of dealing with what emerged.
The first signs of the old and new worlds colliding were there back in the late 90s. The web was young and new, with tech minds pledging to create a society forever changed. One that was freer, more open, and connected.
Old money smelled opportunity and investment poured in from a financial sector that bought much of the marketing spiel but didn’t understand the tech behind it. This led to the bursting of the .com bubble.
Years later history repeated itself with fintech and crypto and a financial sector that had operated the same way for centuries found itself playing catch-up with technology. While fintech has flourished by snuggly fitting into established regulatory frameworks, crypto has caused a similar furore as the dawn of the internet. Essentially, a new paradigm that placed financial sovereignty with the individual, it posed a major challenge to established ways of doing things, while also providing a hotbed for bad actors and fraudsters. So much so that crypto had been likened to the ’wild west’.
In an effort to regulate it, in April, European lawmakers voted to create the Markets in Crypto Act (MiCA).
Touted as the most comprehensive regulatory framework for digital assets to date, rules will impose several requirements on crypto platforms, token issuers and traders around transparency, disclosure, authorization, and supervision of transactions.
The UK is currently consulting on plans to regulate crypto too, but in the States the situation is far more complex, with different Federal laws touching on different aspects of it. But no all-encompassing legislation.
Further, to try and tackle the issue of data privacy, GDPR was introduced by the European Union to rein in the worst excesses of Web 2.0. But so far, a combination of slow enforcement and an untargeted, blanket approach to regulation has led to many questioning its success.
Now a new challenge is emerging, one like none that has gone before. Much has been written already about the promise of modern AI. But what about the dangers in terms of privacy, intellectual property and even ethics?
Rather than rush regulation, some have chosen to halt use and development altogether. In March this year, Italy’s data regulator temporarily banned ChatGPT over data security concerns. France, Germany, and Ireland could follow.
While some of the world’s leading tech minds such as Elon Musk have already called for a moratorium on AI as an industry until the full extent of its capabilities and impact can be understood.
Before AI can be utilised to its full potential, trust in the technology and in how it treats our data will have to be established. But this is far easier said than done.
There are common threads running through every attempt to properly regulate tech. They come primarily from a clash of cultures, and a lack of fundamental understanding about the impact of tech on industries and on wider society.
Politics, finance, public sector bodies all have the reputation for being crammed full of stuffy, largely middle-aged or elderly traditionalists. That’s not always the case of course, but stereotypes often exist for a reason.
Tech, on the other hand, is largely the purview of the young. People who eschew tradition and embrace disruption.
This was glaringly obvious when Meta supremo Mark Zuckerberg took to the stand in front of Congress and had to explain, often in cringeworthily simplistic terms, how Facebook worked to a gathering of ageing US lawmakers.
To regulate tech accurately it must first be properly understood. Those who make the technology need to work alongside those developing its regulation. It is crucial that any regulatory framework that is built around AI can protect us, while enabling creativity and innovation to continue so that we may all benefit from it.