This article was originally published in GovInsider on 15 February 2023.
Gregory Francis, CEO of public policy consultancy Access Partnership, on why corporate entities should take the lead on tech policy as the speed of innovation accelerates, how policymakers should react to new technology, and the tech policy trends of 2023.
The overriding trend in the tech world coming into 2023 has been massive tech layoffs, with over 100,000 employees laid off in the year thus far according to layoffs.fyi. But Gregory Francis, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of public policy consultancy Access Partnership, is optimistic. In his words, the tech winter may merely be a tech squall.
He points to the cases of Twitter and Meta, which he says are facing unique circumstances — Elon Musk’s controversial takeover of the social media platform and Meta’s unparalleled investment into the metaverse, respectively.
In addition, he highlights that tech companies hired aggressively from 2020 to 2021. According to Bloomberg, Microsoft, Alphabet, Salesforce, and Meta increased their number of hires during that period by 35 per cent, creating over 100,000 new jobs in total. The recent tech layoffs may simply be a correction in the aftermath of this hiring frenzy.
So what are the lasting trends in the tech world to pay attention to this year?
Access Partnership’s new report on the tech policy trends predicts that 2023 will see stronger regulation on thorny issues like cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence and data transfers, while tech players will have to strengthen the case for emerging technology like the metaverse, autonomous vehicles, and web 3.0.
Francis tells GovInsider that in 2023, emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing will drive innovation in ways we can only guess at, and the risks and benefits of such tech remain yet to be seen.
But governments are inherently reactive to the innovations coming out of big tech, he says. Corporate players and tech companies play a vital role in enumerating the risks and benefits their products pose and providing the policy frameworks for governments to consider.
In turn, this will help tech solutions be used in as many markets as possible, and as fairly as possible, says Francis.
Corporate players to pave the way
As tech layoffs and revenue losses hit, big tech will have to adopt a posture “more characterised by humility than audacity,” says Francis.
Given how transformative emerging technology will be, the tech sector will have to be more sensitive to how products are received and provide the policy solutions governments are looking for. This will be key to ensuring that tech adoption proceeds fairly across global markets, from Texas to Borneo.
Francis highlights the case of Microsoft, which helped pave the way for cloud regulation and cloud adoption globally. This enabled economies to quickly pivot to the cloud when the pandemic hit. In 2015, Microsoft published a cloud policy roadmap to help government ICT decision-makers develop frameworks for secure cloud computing adoption.
If corporate players don’t proactively help governments shape regulation, the tendency is for governments to either react slowly or to react in ways that limit access first. This can create a digital divide between countries that have access to new technologies and countries that don’t, and limit how many markets tech companies can reach.
When technology like quantum computing goes mainstream, it will turbocharge advanced economies, he predicts. By exponentially increasing processing capabilities, quantum computing is expected to play key roles in research and development and product design for industries such as transportation, healthcare, and communications, wrote GovInsider.
And this will only further expand digital divides into digital caverns, warns Francis. Corporate entities will have to lead the way in explaining how their technology can be used safely and fairly to regulators to encourage mass adoption and prevent these divides.
How regulators can respond to new technology
Regulators are developing workgroups both internally and through global forums to develop stances in response to new technology, Francis notes. They are speaking to experts, developing pilot projects and sandboxes, and working together to develop global standards.
But there will always be some paralysis, as there is no clear pathway for the most cutting edge of technology. Decision-making will only become slower as the rate of innovation increases.
Regulators need to be nimble and flexible to enable access to new technologies, while being able to quickly respond to unintended consequences, he says.
He adds that one great example of regulators experimenting with new tech policy is Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code, which levels the playing field for independent newsmakers and giant online platforms. To protect the businesses of Australian media companies, the code compels big tech companies to pay local news publishers when news content is made available on their platforms.
Second, governments can convene major companies and ecosystem players to understand the risks and benefits of upcoming technology. This is an opportunity to convince tech players that they will need to develop a vision for how such tech can be used fairly, and to lead the way in self-regulation.
Singapore is well equipped to be a convener of stakeholders for topics such as online security in the metaverse, he says.
Potentially, Singapore could turn to unlikely purveyors of ideas such as companies in the entertainment industry, which have more experience managing the challenges of children going online, he notes. Access Partnership’s tech policy report highlights online security for children as a key concern when it comes to the metaverse and recommends a proactive and collaborative approach to ensure governance concerns do not deter metaverse participation.
Third, governments in ASEAN can work together to develop policy frameworks for new technology, saving individual agencies time and resources from developing regulations independently.
It will remain critical for governments to ensure fair access to the advantages offered by new technology, while guarding against unintended consequences. Proactive decision making and regulation by governments, coupled with the guidance provided by big tech companies on public policy, will determine whether technology serves as an equaliser or entrenches inequality further.