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World Economic Forum creates blockchain, AI policy councils

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The World Economic Forum (WEF) has announced the creation of six ‘Global Fourth Industrial Revolution Councils’. The ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ is the label given for the host of revolutionary technologies that are currently in development.

Each council will focus on one particularly pressing technology with academics and experts from public and private sectors making up the council members. Indeed, the WEF already has some big names like Uber, Qualcomm and Microsoft on board.

The chosen technologies are artificial intelligence, autonomous mobility, blockchain, drones, internet of things and precision medicine.

The goal of the councils is to develop policy guidelines which can close ‘governance gaps’ and maintain some level of regulatory uniformity across the globe.

This is especially crucial for blockchain, where borderless transactions are one of its defining features and regulatory uncertainty is thought to be the largest barrier to widespread adoption.

Doubtless, the blockchain council’s work will build on the WEF “Redesigning Trust with Blockchain in the Supply Chain” initiative. Although the initiative’s goal also revolves around regulatory issues, it specifies a holistic view and seeks to ensure “all players remain able to realize the full potential of this foundational technology and that risks are minimized.”

Richard Samans, Managing Director and Head of Policy and Institutional Impact, World Economic Forum, gives further details on the councils’ work: “Companies and governments are not moving fast enough to anticipate social expectations in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

“We believe that that this bottom-up, societally-focused approach can help to build and maintain public trust in the technologies while strengthening the evidence base on which policy decisions are made by governments and companies. This is the first place where this kind of high-level, strategic dialogue on the governance of these technologies will take place across stakeholders and regions on an ongoing basis.”

One of the points not mentioned by the WEF is the risks of global trade wars impacting technology. Blockchain, because it involves data sharing, is especially reliant on international standards.

One example is the Chinese technology company Huawei, which has been accused by some Western countries of snooping. Today the Financial Times reported that IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, can no longer use Huawei employees for the peer-review process. The New Jersey-based institute which is responsible for setting global standards, is complying with the U.S. blacklist on exports to Huawei. The question is how this sort of move might impact the global standard-setting processes.

The WEF blockchain council is co-chaired by Elizabeth Rossiello, CEO of BitPesa and Denis Robitaille, the World Bank’s VP for Information and Technology Solutions.

Councils had their inaugural meeting on 29th May in San Francisco, where the WEF’s ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution Network’ is headquartered.