Could regulatory frameworks actually progress technology innovation?
Updated: Aug 15
The “war to win AI” seems to be at the pinnacle of the global dialogue about whether or not to regulate emerging technologies. There is a fairly fervent butting of heads when it comes to this open debate as to whether governments should or should not regulate the development of certain emerging technologies, with of course, artificial intelligence sitting at the epicentre. However, one can’t help but wonder with all of the risk and all of the unknown that these technologies are presenting, why is it not a given that they ought to be regulated?
Governments fear that heavy regulation will inhibit innovation thereby putting them at a severe disadvantage in the global race to rule AI, and ipso facto the iron fist clutching the linchpin to all future technology developments. It seems as though 2018 was the year of, “please government regulate!” and that this year is the year of reckoning for those making the plight.
For example, it was only just February of this year that US Congress issued House Resolution 153, which resolved to “[support] the development of guidelines for ethical development of artificial intelligence”. Mind you, that’s not the standards, it’s merely the support for the standards. And it wasn’t until CRISPR babies (genetically modified humans) were actually born and made known to the public that the Chinese government issued draft legislation mandating national approval of clinical research dealing with gene editing, again, just in February of this year.
But, what if in actuality innovation was propelled by regulatory infrastructures? There are reasons to suggest that in some (if not most) instances regulation could actually enable innovation to thrive. Mind you, we’re talking about sustainable innovation, not back basement lab experiments being done in remote areas with no consideration of possible harm. When we are discussing the evolution of new technologies that are intended to progress our systems in a positive way for all, regulation does in fact promote this growth.
Propelling Innovation with Regulation, a Couple Cases in Point
Ever heard of a “smart contract”? Of course you have. The legal industry has had its fair share of smart contract and related blockchain propaganda, much of which is admittedly eye roll worthy. However, there is plenty of good reason to pay attention to these technologies as they mature and enable viable systems of interoperable automation, enhanced privacy, and overall gains in efficiency. Though we must then ask what it actually means to be a Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) that is fully enabled by these technologies. There isn’t a coherent answer.
Most jurisdictions still lack a clear legal recognition of DAOs, or definition around what qualities of an entity suffice to put it in this category. As a result, even where the technology is mature and ready to be adopted, it cannot be and as such further growth and development is actually greatly inhibited. As a clear example, non-DAOs that want to implement smart contract capabilities to improve their business, for example law firms, cannot actually do this in most jurisdictions as there are not yet viable regulatory frameworks to account for these changes.
Another stark example of where technology innovation is being inhibited by the lack of legislative frameworks to address it, are autonomous vehicles. The technology in itself is ready. It is inherent in the purpose of the technology that it be able to cooperate with existing vehicles on public roads. While these vehicles are being developed in “real-world” labs (environments that mimic real world scenarios), full adoption and progressive development is limited by the lack of regulatory infrastructure. More so, the ability for the physical infrastructure of actual real world environments to innovate and adapt is needed for these vehicles to be adopted.
Those jurisdictions that do have legislative frameworks to account for these vehicles are naturally well ahead of the curve. As a case in point let’s look at the United States. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, most states in the United States now have some form of enacted legislation or executive order to account for autonomous vehicles. At the federal level guidelines have been released to account for Automated Driving Systems (ADS), and the American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act has been put in place. It's no wonder then that the United States is frequently listed as one of the top countries leading in autonomous vehicle development and preparedness.
Surprisingly Big Tech is Onboard
Several tech giants have recently, surprisingly, stepped up to demand government regulation of technology. Perhaps this is a back swell response to the growing fires around Big Tech, in an effort to appear as though they are responding to the issues. Whether that is or is not the case, this does draw attention to a rather salient point, that it is in fact the government's job to encourage the regulatory frameworks for managing new and existing technologies. And, it is in fact the job of these massive organizations to build the infrastructure for compliance with existing regulations and bodies of standards. It is not the reverse, nor should it be.
As Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has said, “Technology needs to be regulated. There are now too many examples where the no rails have resulted in a great damage to society.” And as Microsoft’s president Brad Smith has stated, “We must ensure that the year 2024 doesn’t look like a page from the novel 1984.
”With the apparent support of Big Tech, and the evidence to suggest that legislative frameworks can actually encourage innovation - and at a quickened pace - it is a wonder how there is a debate at all. Of course, the pragmatic application of “regulating emerging technologies” is a barrier, but that does not provide the grounds for avoiding the first steps altogether.
About the Author: Aileen Schultz is a Toronto based award winning growth and innovation strategist with a global footprint, and a passion for creating better exponential systems. She works with SME's across several sectors with a focus in legal and emerging technologies.