Skip to content

Search the site


WEF: AI dominates talks but to what gain?

"Artificial intelligence by the name is not something that you can actually govern," says Dubai Futures CEO. But the World Economic Forum tries, nonetheless.

The World Economic Forum's 2024 summit wrapped up last week, and tech businesses were quick to ask: What next? Artificial Intelligence was at the heart of technology conversations, with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and French President Emmanuel Macron leading calls for collaboration in AI governance.

Industry voices, including Sam Altman and Satya Nadella threw their support behind rapid development for economic good. The tensions between policy and practice were as expected, with both sides rehashing regulation discourse.

Same old, same old

Policy makers batted for global AI regulations, but the question of how these can be achieved remained unanswered: "Artificial Intelligence by the name is not something that you can actually govern," Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation, said on a recent episode of Radio Davos.

"You can govern the sub-effects or the sectors that Artificial Intelligence can affect. And if you take them on a case-by-case basis, this is the best way to actually create some kind of a policy," he added.

Britain's Jeremy Hunt said regulations should be 'light-touch', a relevant take given the country's recent attempts to be the global leader in AI regulation. /s.

In other highlights from the rather expected trites, Altman said that all people must be involved in the development of the technology, because "AI won't replace our understanding of each other."

"Humans know what other humans want. Humans are going to have better tools. We've had better tools before, but we're still very focused on each other."

See also: OpenAI, TikTok, X hunt insider threat specialists – on widely diverging salary bands

Call for guardrails and global collaborations at Davos were accompanied by little how-to. Though Brad Smith, vice-chair and President of Microsoft encouraged companies and countries to not fall in the trap of reinventing the wheel.

"There are a wide variety of laws in place around the world that were not necessarily written for AI, but they absolutely apply to AI. Privacy laws. Cybersecurity rules. Digital safety. Child protection. Consumer protection. Competition law," Smith said.

"And now you have a new set of AI-specific rules and laws. And I do think there's more similarity than most people assume", he added.

See also: UK unveils ‘light touch’ AI regulation plans

Pablo Hernández de Cos, who chairs the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and is also governor of the Bank of Spain, suggested another approach.

Speaking to the Financial Times ahead of the summit, he said that financial regulations should be the blueprint for global AI regulation.

He commended the global cooperation and regularised standards set with the former, and that a similar level of collaboration was required for AI watchdogs to achieve anything noteworthy.

Now what?

At the end of the summit, techies and policy makers have no new answers nor any new questions. Nadella's call, that "we need a framework", was met with raucous assent, but in itself has no novelty.

Governments across the globe from UK to China are rushing forward to come up with regulations and standards for the rapidly evolving technology, with even the Pope chiming in with a call for international AI oversight.

But tangible gains and goals froms the World Economic Forum, and the other AI centered summits that had been peppered across the previous year's calendar, are yet to be seen,