Multiple issues plagued the tech sector in 2018. Cybersecurity breaches, privacy issues, fake news, and online disinformation spawned widespread concern about technology’s growing impact on our daily lives.
Microsoft President Brad Smith cast a look back at “Techlash” in 2018 and identified top tech issues for 2019 in a recent LinkedIn post.
Nationwide privacy regulations, the ongoing trade war with China, U.S. resistance to the global response to cyberattacks and election meddling, and AI regulation are among key tech challenges heading into the new year, ZDNet reports.
Heeding the Privacy Protection Call
Consumer privacy was a hot-button issue in 2018. Fear and distrust in the tech sector grew when Facebook and other companies had to answer for collecting, sharing, and using personal information without consumer knowledge or consent.
Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered a privacy-focused keynote address at a European privacy commissioners conference in Brussels last October. In it, he acknowledged global privacy concerns saying, “Every day, billions of dollars change hands, and countless decisions are made, on the basis of our likes and dislikes, our friends and families, our relationships and conversations, our wishes and fears, our hopes and dreams.”
Cook praised the European Union’s implementation of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). He also voiced Apple’s strong support for “a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States.”
Smith echoed Cook’s desire to heed the urgent privacy protection call by showing support for the California Consumer Privacy Act. He also expressed hope the game-changing legislation will gain national momentum.
“Look to the next few months for the spread of privacy legislation to several other state capitals,” Smith wrote, “all of which will set the stage for an even bigger debate on Capitol Hill.”
Chinese Trade Impacts
Smith predicted the tech sector “could be in for a bumpy ride” in the coming year, given ongoing trade issues between the U.S. and China. Massive U.S. tariff increases on Chinese imports escalated the trade war last year. Even more turbulence is expected in trans-Pacific trade this year.
Increased awareness in the U.S. political arena of China’s advancements in AI and other technologies, for example, has caused “heightened concern about its economic and national security implications,” Smith noted.
He also suggested a lengthy debate on export controls for AI and emerging technologies will persist in 2019.
Digital Diplomacy and Cyberattacks
State-sponsored cyberattacks and widespread data breaches sent resounding shock waves across the digital stratosphere last year. Smith sees no reason threats should subside in 2019.
The U.S. made strides in digital diplomacy by issuing public attribution for the NotPetya malware attack last February. Other governments quickly followed suit.
Smith commended French President Emanuel Macron for launching The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace in 2018. Over 450 signatories from over 50 governments, 400 companies, and civil society groups reportedly united in the global defense against cyberattacks and the critical effort to protect electoral processes. All EU members joined, as well as 27 out of 29 NATO allies.
The U.S. is a notable exception. Smith seemed optimistic for change noting, “The New Year brings a new opportunity to bring everyone together.”
AI Ethics and Facial Recognition Regulation
Ethical questions over AI use in the military arose early last year. Google notably withdrew a bid on a military contract due to employee objections. Microsoft, however, pledged to support the U.S. military and “advocate for policies and laws that will ensure that AI and other new technologies are used responsibly and ethically.”
AI is expected to drive future technology, especially in the health and medical sectors. Ethics questions will undoubtedly continue to surface in various sectors as the technology evolves.
Similar concerns about facial recognition have emerged. Smith penned a plea for government regulation of the technology in December. He revisited the issue in his new post noting, “The EU is already monitoring facial recognition and other biometric techniques under the GDPR, and the European Commission has started reviewing the ethical issues more broadly.”
Smith anticipates U.S. legislation will move from state capitals in early months to Washington, D.C. by the end of 2019.