News In Context

Call My (Digital) Agent

Every day we are confronted with choices about what kind of data we are willing to share. We don’t read the fine print on our screens and might not be aware of the data we are giving up to ambient devices that are listening to what we say. Getting to an acceptable default state will be even more important as the world moves towards the creation of the metaverse and human–technology interaction becomes ever more seamless.

What if there was a  way to outsource the decision-making  to a trustworthy third party? What if you could pre-consent to your preferences so that you did not need to continuously opt-in? What if technology allowed you to outsource your decision-making to a digitally automated agent, potentially using artificial intelligence (AI), which could actively make those decisions for you and intercede when you were not even aware you were being tracked?

These questions are posed in a World Economic Forum insight report released this week entitled “Advancing Digital Agency.”  Building on the Forum’s previous work on redesigning data privacy, the report examines data value chain scenarios as they
exist today – and may exist in the future –with a view to improving data sharing.

AI-powered digital agents are not as far off as you might think. Governments are already starting to pay attention to the idea of trusted intermediary bodies to support data sharing, notes the report. The new European Union Data Governance Act “aims to foster the availability of data for use by increasing trust in data intermediaries and by strengthening data-sharing mechanisms across the EU.”  The UK recently commissioned a report on data intermediaries that determined they can empower both people and businesses in data sharing activity and the U.S. ACCESS Act of 2019 expressly allowing for end-users to delegate their data rights to trusted “third party custodians.”

Digital identity could be the key to unlocking AI-enabled digital agents who could act as third-party custodians, permitting  the selection of preferences and the making of certain choices in advance, such as “pre-consent,” says the report. This already happens in device usage: when setting up a new phone, for example, users can pre-determine privacy settings before using any app, because their identity is usually inherently connected to their devices. Similarly, through the use of cookies, browsers can remember which user is which through a set of identifiers. In the same way digital identity could allow digital agents to recognize that the data belongs to a specific user and consult the permissions that user has authorized.

 Designed in the right way these digital agents can serve as a conduit for businesses to gain greater access to permissioned personal data. They could also enable
greater sharing of that data between private corporations and organizations and help companies navigate laws, regulations, and other complex data privacy requirements, says the report.

“Effective trustworthy data intermediaries, which opt in or out on behalf of people, might ease the subjective need for strict legislation in specific industries and for specific use cases and instead allow for a more harmonized and holistic approach with multiple applications,” says the report. “The appeal of trusted digital agents (TDA) is that they are similarly simplistic and complex: when a TDA can navigate any data sharing scenario, the sky is the limit for the opportunity – and the risk.”

The report recommends that corporates get involved in iterating and testing the way data intermediaries will be designed and implemented before specific legislation is passed. The concept of trusted digital agents “is effectively in policy beta  mode“ and therefore requires input from the public, business, academics, governments, says the report. It concludes with a call for action.



NFTs Are Being Adopted By The Auto Industry

Alfa Romeo says its latest Tonale model will use NFTs to record vehicle data and generate a certificate to guarantee the car’s overall status.


Are Lifelike Digital Humans The Future of Customer Experience?

Soul Machines, a New Zealand-based company that uses computer generated imagery, AI and natural language processing to create lifelike digital people who can interact with humans in real time, has raised $70 million, bringing its total funding to $135 million. The startup will put the funds toward enhancing its Digital Brain technology, which uses a technique called “cognitive modeling” to recreate things like the human brain’s emotional response system in order to construct autonomous animated characters.While Soul Machines does envision its tech will be used for entertainment purposes, it’s mainly pursuing a B2B play that creates emotionally engaging brand and customer experiences. The basic problem the startup is trying to solve is how to create personal brand experiences in an increasingly digital world, especially when the main interaction most companies have with their customers is via apps and websites, notes Techcrunch. The answer to that, Soul Machines thinks, is a digital workforce, one that is available at any time of the day, in any language, and mimics the human experience so well that humans have an emotional reaction, which ultimately leads to brand loyalty.


UBQ Materials Partners With Resirene To Create Sustainable Versatile Plastic

Israel’s UBQ Materials has partnered with Mexican plastic polymer producer, Resirene, to create a sustainable, UBQ-infused polystyrene material that will be used in items ranging from multi-use razor handles to signage.UBQ Materials converts unsorted household and municipal landfill-destined waste into UBQ, a climate-positive, cost-competitive replacement for plastic. UBQ is a bio-based drop-in material that can be incorporated into standard manufacturing processes without additional machinery or materials. The production of UBQ decreases the landfilling of waste, preventing methane emissions and curtailing the leakage of toxic substances into the soil. Resirene, a large polymers producer, serves numerous market segments, including polymer applications for food and beverage, healthcare and medical products, electronics, construction, and advertising, among others.


JP Morgan, Toshiba, Ciena Find New Ways To Protect Blockchain With Quantum  Network

A team of quantum computing engineers from JPMorgan Chase, Toshiba Corp  and Ciena say they have successfully shown that a powerful, newly-developed encryption network can be used to protect communications on the blockchain, according to a paper published February 17.The group of researchers say it is the first time that a quantum key distribution (QKD) network, a super-secure two-way communication network powered by quantum physics, has been tested as a way to protect the blockchain from quantum computing attacks.Quantum computers, which can process information and calculations at a radically faster rate than classical computers, are still being developed, and so experts say quantum computing cyberattacks are still some years away. But the threat they pose is so great that researchers like those at JPMorgan are searching for ways to protect banking systems now.

More Banks Join Blockchain-Based Carbon Marketplace

UBS, Standard Chartered, and BNP Paribas have joined Project Carbon, a bank-backed initiative to create a blockchain-based marketplace where firms can buy and sell carbon offsets. Launched as a pilot in August by NAB, NatWest, CIBC, and Banco Itau, Project Carbon will act as a place where corporate customers buy and sell carbon offsets with clear and consistent pricing and standards. The platform is being developed to provide settlements infrastructure and systems for marketplaces and exchanges in the voluntary carbon market and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2022. Going forward the project will be known as Carbonplace.


U.S. Justice Dept. Announces Changes Meant To Deter Cyber Threats

A top Justice Department official said February 18  that the agency was bolstering its efforts to address cybercrime, as cryptocurrencies have increasingly become part of the global economy and cyberthreats become more and more common. Lisa O. Monaco, the No. 2 official at the department, said in a virtual speech at the annual Munich cybersecurity conference that the agency had established a team at the F.B.I. dedicated to cryptocurrency; added a dozen federal prosecutors to a unit investigating and prosecuting criminal misuses of cryptocurrency; and tapped a director to lead it.

FBI Says Ransomware Group Has Penetrated Critical U.S. Infrastructure

The BlackByte ransomware group has compromised entities in at least three US critical infrastructure sectors, according to a joint warning issued  by the FBI and the US Secret Service on February 11th.

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.