News In Context

Designing The Future Of The Connected World

Defining The Future Of The Connected World

The World Economic Forum announced four initiatives this week aimed at designing and defining the future of the connected world: one is an action plan that seeks to streamline regulations and build transparency and trust into Internet of Things (IoT) technologies; the second, called the Data for Common Purpose Initiative, is being billed as a first-of its-kind global attempt to accelerate the use and sharing of data across the public and private sector in a trustworthy and equitable manner; the third aims to unleash the power of emerging technologies through agile regulations and the fourth outlines steps organizations can take to ensure the ethical use of technology.

“The IoT initiative was formed to establish a global consensus on the most pressing governance challenges facing our connected world and to advance specific, real-world impact,” says Jeff Merritt, the Forum’s head of IoT & Urban Transformation. “Collaboration is essential to advance this work and towards that end, we are excited to announce that Canada, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Singapore, UAE and the UK have signed the world’s first ‘Agile Nations’ agreement to help innovators navigate their rules, test new ideas with regulators and scale them across their markets.”  The Forum also teamed up this week with over 50 partners from 20 countries around the world to launch the Data For Common Purpose Initiative, which the Forum says is critical to ensuring that currently inaccessible data is available to solve key challenges, such as optimizing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

And, the Forum separately released a report  entitled “Ethics by Design” – An Organizational Approach to Responsible Use of Technology that outlines how organizational leaders can influence their companies and encourage the responsible use of technology.

All four initiatives are a recognition that the emerging technologies powering the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution are disrupting industries and society, bringing about rapid, large-scale change with wide-ranging consequences, requiring systems thinking and increased collaboration between stakeholders.

IoT, for example, holds great promise but also raises challenges. It expected to grow faster than expected once the world enters a new post-COVID-19 business environment, thanks to the release of pent-up demand and new investment in technology aimed at minimizing impacts from future disruptions, according to the Forum’s new report The State of The Connected World 2020. According to a survey by the GSMA cited in the report, enterprises will increase investment in automation in the hope of improving agility in the face of future pandemics. The report notes that the industrial IoT market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.7% to reach $263.4 billion by 2027, driven by applications such as industrial automation and predictive maintenance. Meanwhile, public health agencies will likely prioritize telehealth and remote patient-monitoring applications to expand the accessibility of health services. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published guidance for the use of telehealth to expand access to essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But like all technologies IoT can be misused. The report notes that risks are coming to light, in the form of security and privacy issues, the potential for increased cyber crime, the rise of ubiquitous surveillance at work, home or in public spaces and control of mobility and expression. What’s more, confusion regarding IoT’s technological standards could limit its growth and benefits for society and make it more susceptible to safety issues and security breaches.

The State of The Connected World Report, a year-long study by the Forum’s Global IoT Council, which spans the public and private sectors, representing 13 countries on five continents, seven industries and a combination of executive leaders and subject-matter experts, identifies the top challenges for IoT and proposes a global action plan that brings together a number of initiatives to help solve them.

One of the issues the action plan seeks to tackle is ensuring that regulations help, rather than hinder, the advancement of IoT. To that end, the Agile Nations Charter , which was announced December 9, sets out a way for nations to cooperate in helping the innovators behind IoT and all emerging technologies, navigate each country’s rules, test new ideas with regulators and scale them across the seven markets. Priority areas for cooperation include the green economy, mobility, data, financial and professional services, and medical diagnosis and treatment. The collaboration is a result of the Forum’s project on Agile Regulation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which supports regulators around the globe respond to technological innovation.

Another issue listed in the IoT Council’s action plan is data privacy. The Data for Common Purpose Initiative, which was separately announced on December 9, is developing a framework to enable access to data for intended and agreed upon purposes, without compromising individual privacy rights. With over 50 partners from 20 countries around the world, it is aiming to build what it calls a foundational governance framework to refocus data policy and models towards common purposes in order to enable differentiated permissioning of the same data, depending on context, across public and commercial sectors. The aim is to leverage technology developments to ensure that a person’s data cannot be used for non-permissioned purposes, that their rights are recognized and respected, and that economic benefits and risks are appropriately allocated across a more complete set of stakeholders.

Separately, the Forum is seeking to help corporates put safeguards in place to guard against the misuse of technology in its “Ethics By Design” report.  The report outlines steps and makes recommendations that go beyond conventional incentives such as compliance training, financial compensation or penalties, to help companies use technology responsibly.
“Ethics will be crucial to the success of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Kay Firth-Butterfield, the Forum’s Head of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, said in a statement.“The ethical challenges will only continue to grow and become more prevalent as machines advance. Organizations across industries – both private and public – will need to integrate these approaches.”

All four of the Forum initiatives announced this week emphasize that technology development cannot be done in a vacuum; its social impact has to be taken into consideration.

In other news this week:


Singapore Builds Platform That Lets People Consolidate Their Financial Data

Singapore has launched a data exchange platform that lets people on the island consolidate their financial information held across different government agencies and banks. Developed by government agencies, including with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, with the backing of seven leading banks, the Singapore Financial Data Exchange is designed to help Singaporeans improve their money management and financial planning.

Ant, Grab Become First Tech Companies To Run Banks In Singapore

Ant Group and a venture led by Grab Holdings won licenses to run digital banks in Singapore, paving the way for the technology giants to expand their financial services in the Southeast Asian hub. Sea was also among the four winners announced by the Monetary Authority of Singapore after almost a year of deliberation.

Gates Calls India’s Digital Finance Approach A Global Model

Tech pioneer Bill Gates praised India’s policies for financial innovation and inclusion, saying his philanthropic foundation is working with other countries to roll out open-source technologies modeled on the country’s implementation.

Payments Have Become Tech Arms Race Say Banks

The vast majority of banks (94%) believe that the Covid-19 pandemic has turned the payments market into a technology arms race for which they are unprepared, according to a survey of 200 European banking executives carried out by card issuing plaform Marqeta.The pandemic has seen a massive increase in the use of digital payment services which has in turn led to an increased demand among consumers for more innovative services. But while banks recognise that this demand is an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage, an overwhelming number (84%) say they are struggling due to their legacy infrastructure. 


Amazon Eyes A Big Phamacy Bet To Take On Reliance, Tata Group

Amazon is considering investing $100 million in India’s largest branded pharmacy chain, Apollo Pharmacy. A potential investment in Apollo could prove Amazon access to 3,700 physical outlets, allowing it to pick up products directly from retail stores and deliver them to consumers.


Hackers Steal Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Data In Europe

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said documents related to development of their COVID-19 vaccine had been “unlawfully accessed” in a cyberattack on Europe’s medicines regulator.

U.S. Cybersecurity Firm FireEye Discloses Theft Of Its Hacking Tools

FireEye, one of the largest cybersecurity companies in the United States, said  it had been hacked, likely by a government, and that an arsenal of hacking tools used to test the defenses of its clients had been stolen.

U.S. National Security Agency Warns Of Russian Hacking Of VMWare Products

A new cybersecurity alert from the U.S. National Security Agency warns that Russian “state-sponsored” hackers are actively exploiting a software vulnerability in multiple products made by cloud computing company VMware Inc. The NSA said organizations should apply “as soon as possible” a software patch provided by the company on Dec. 5.


QuantumScape Is Building An Electric Car Battery It Says Charges To 80% In 15 Minutes

Volkswagen-backed QuantumScape is building a solid-state lithium metal battery for electric vehicles that it says will be safer and better than the cells on the market today. In extensive testing, QuantumScape found that its batteries should allow a car to charge to 80% of its full capacity in about 15 minutes.

Uber Abandons Effort To Develop Its Own Self-Driving Vehicle

Uber announced this week that it will sell-off its self-driving unit. The move continues the consolidation in self-driving technology, as the process of creating safe, secure autonomous vehicles continues to cost more and take longer than prognosticators once believed. Uber’s self-driving unit lost $303 million between January and September of this year, according to financial filings, and the company has spent more than $1 billion in its five years of existence.

First Electric Air Taxis Set To Fly in Singapore By 2023

Singapore is set to host the world’s first electric-powered air taxi service by the end of 2023, according to Germany’s Volocopter, which is developing the vertical-takeoff craft.The German manufacturer is committed to starting operations within three years once it completes flight trials, evaluation and certification in collaboration with the city-state, it said in a statement on December 9. Tickets for a 15-minute trip costing €300 are already on sale.


Hyundai Purchases Boston Dynamics For $921 Million

Hyundai Motor Company will acquire Boston Dynamics for $921 million, according to The Korea Economic Daily. The robotics company is famous for its animal and human shaped androids. Since Chung Euisun was named chairman last October, the company has focused more heavily on robotics, with the company saying robotics will account for 20% of its future business and urban air mobility will account for another 30%.,


Germany, France, 11 Other European Countries Team On Semiconductor Push

Germany, France, Spain and ten other EU countries have joined forces to invest in processors and semiconductor technologies, key to internet-connected devices and data processing, in a push to catch up with the United States and Asia.

China Stakes Its Claim To Quantum Supremacy

Last year Google won international acclaim when its prototype quantum computer completed a calculation in minutes that its researchers estimated would have taken a supercomputer 10,000 years. That met the definition for quantum supremacy—the moment a quantum machine does something impractical for a conventional computer. Now China’s leading quantum research group is making its own declaration of quantum supremacy, in the journal Science. A system called Jiuzhang produced results in minutes calculated to take more than 2 billion years of effort by the world’s third-most-powerful supercomputer


U.S. Sues Facebook For Abuse Of Monopoly Power

The US Federal Trade Commission and 46 states have brought antitrust cases against Facebook, accusing the company of using its social media dominance to crush competition and calling for penalties that could include a forced break-up.

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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.