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Diplomat warns that tech industry has become a pawn as politicos fight dirty

They see AI, cybersecurity as 'battle fronts' - and rising populism will make it worse - former UN official

Oracle OpenWorld Technology and cyber security will be the "battle fronts" of global competition, and artificial intelligence will become crucial to the US-China trade war, a former UN official has said.

The view was, a very few short years ago that [social media firms] were better custodians of an individual's personal data than the government. Very quickly, that has reversed...

Speaking at Oracle's London OpenWorld event, Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, who was UN deputy general secretary in 2006 and the CEO of the United Nations Development Programme from 1999-2005, set out how the tech industry would be affected by political disruption.

Malloch-Brown's talk took place the day after the British Parliament had rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal, and he began by painting a thoroughly depressing view of the state of UK politics.

"In your businesses, you all think of what happens to brands that are built up over decades… in a moment of carelessness or a pattern of deceit," he said to the amassed techies.

"I'd suggest to you, Britain is in a brand crisis… Is it a rash, vile infection that will go away? I'd suggest not."

Equally bleak were his takeaways on the presidency of Donald Trump and what he described as a "rogues' gallery" of other world leaders, such as Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdoğan, and the increasing tension between China and the West.

In this context, Malloch-Brown said that technology and cyber security would be some of the main "battlefronts" of competition, as more developed economies fight to retain their position against quickly expanding economies.

I'd suggest to you, Britain is in a brand crisis... Is it a rash, vile infection that will go away? I'd suggest not...

"Think tanks and policymakers in Washington see AI in a winner-takes-all competition between the US and China, where they have a view of technology where whoever gets the lead can pull up the trapdoor behind them and secure a global dominance."

He went on to say that, in his own view, intellectual property developed in AI research wouldn't be controlled by one country and that the world would benefit from advances in the field. Scientific ideas are "hard to contain behind national frontiers", he said.

However, he argued that the industry was "entering into a world where technology is going to be constrained" in a number of ways.

As well as a fight for global advantage in areas like AI, there is the "asymmetrical nature of cyber security attacks", which he likened to "modern electronic terrorism".

In this case, the British peer warned the size of a country's defence budget "bears no relationship to [its] vulnerability against these kinds of attacks".

As examples, he pointed to Russian efforts to disrupt trust in democratic elections, accusations flying between Chinese and Western agencies and companies of the theft of technical secrets.

"We're entering into a world where the cybersecurity issue is going to start to slow and complicate, and place new barriers, in the way of technological progress."

Malloch-Brown added that changing public opinion of social media firms and tech giants was also going to impact the way all of the industry worked.

"The view was, a very few short years ago, that [social media firms] were better custodians of an individual's personal data than the government," he said. "Very quickly, that has reversed, and a Big Brother image of social media companies has taken hold."

That is driving a lot of policymaking, particularly in Europe, "in ways that will put new constraints on your industry", he told the attendees.

Finally, he noted that the populism that has marked global politics in recent years would inevitably spill into how the government manages the commercial aspects of technology.

This has seen Europe and Britain put a "much greater focus" on protecting national champions, he said, and warned that countries would increasingly consider using both official and informal trade constraints in favour of these firms.®

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